Book chain boss deflects ‘subterfuge’ claims over Suffolk shop branding

Southwold High Street. Picture: SIMON PARKER

Southwold High Street. Picture: SIMON PARKER - Credit: Archant

A major bookshop chain came under fire amid accusations of opening up unbranded stores – including a branch which opened in Southwold three years ago.

Waterstones defended claims it had opened Southwold Books – and others in Rye and Harpenden – under a guise of independence.

Britain's biggest high street bookseller faced less backlash in 2014 when it announced plans to open in Southwold High Street.

Trading as The Southwold Bookshop, it opened in a building previously occupied by the Tourist Office, restoring a dedicated bookshop to the town following the closure of the Orwell Bookshop in 2011 and Bookthrift the following year.

Traders were generally more flattered by the choice of branding than suspicious of subterfuge. At the time, Waterstones' boss James Daunt said the name was chosen to 'reflect that it will be a quintessentially local bookshop'.

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The founder of Daunt Books was appointed in 2011 with the self-professed intention of making each individual store different.

In 2014, he said: 'There's an appetite for a bookshop in the town. The fact we're owned by a chain shouldn't matter too much.'

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However, in recent days, Mr Daunt fielded accusations of deceiving customers by opening the three unbranded stores in 2014 and 2015, with handwritten notes of the shops' owner in the window.

He told The Mail on Sunday that branding the shops as independent helped integration with local communities in smaller towns, and that the model was an attempt to give each an identity, labelling the notion of subterfuge 'ridiculous'.

John Wells, whose Wells of Southwold shop sells books, cards and gifts, called the tactic 'a bit naughty'.

Before the shop's opening, Morgan Richards, of Collen & Clare, a member of the Southwold Chamber of Trade committee, said there was demand for a specialist bookshop, and that Waterstones' arrival would be welcomed by many.

Clare Hart, of Chapmans newsagents, and part of the My Southwold team, said Waterstones was trying to tap into the trend for independent businesses by calling it as 'quintessentially local'.

In recent weeks, shopkeepers have apportioned the arrival of chains some of the blame for an average 177% business rates rise from April. Chancellor Philip Hammond has assured local MPs he is listening to concerns.

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