Friday, June 7, 2013

The Ghost of John Adams Bookshop!...

This is a letter sent by Doug Jeffers, who some readers will remember was for many years the owner of John Adams Bookshop which was opposite the Post Office, to Shepherds Directory which publishes an influential weekly newsletter for the rare and secondhand book trade. Although it is somewhat off the wall, to say the least, it does raise some serious questions which we are all aware the High Street is facing thanks to much publicized campaigns from the likes of Mary Portas. Doug closed down John Adams a few years ago sighting the opening of Oxfam Bookshop as his main reason for leaving Tonbridge. He decided instead to concentrate his efforts on his Balham bookshop which, sadly, he's now decided to close as well. Here's his letter to Shepherds:

Business Rates We are closing very soon after 23 years.
  The reasons are the depredations caused by large corporations, facilitated by the free-ride given them by governments of every stripe. The first lesson of the 'Free Market' is that that there is no such thing. The 'big battalions' which can do a job for government are given privileged status: financial institutions, private utilities, supermarkets, internet and phone companies all facilitate the retreat of the state and herald the 'Corporate State'. Mussolini must be smiling up or down as his dreams are being fulfilled!
  So I am closing down because:

  1. At my last rent review, coffee shops like Starbucks were mentioned as a comparator - this is a surprise as they are a struggling company which hasn't made a profit for 13 years! But they do useful work in giving our under-employed MPs somewhere to sit and wi-fi their John Lewis catalogue.

  2. The rent goes up, the rateable value goes-up. Landlord's profits go up and mine go down so illogically (curiouser and curiouser) I more tax and rates! If landlords had to pay this tax, it would slow their hand when it came to raising rents and their huge lobbying influence would stay the hand of government from raising rates. The rentier economy - the property boom - got us into this mess in the first place and now the present government is squeezing the last dregs out of retailers to make us pay the deficit. Something like 26 billion p.a. is paid in commercial rates!
  They have deliberately raised the multiplier to 45% and moved the revaluation back two years because businesses are prisoners of a lease-system where upward-only rent clauses are prevalent and tolerated in law and landlords costs are mitigated by service-charges and often a 'hidden rent'. Lease holding rate-payers are low-hanging fruit for the government, because unlike Starbucks and Amazon, and other privileged cosmopolitan aristocrats of the economy, the bailiffs can visit their address without a plane-ticket and international warrant.

3. But it's not that the government doesn't care. Tony Blair's 'sofa government' has been improved by feeling-down the back of the sofa for the TV remote control. Out-of-touch MPs - Eton, PPE at Oxford who have never had a proper job - can find out about today's Britain by watching reality TV (which amounts to about 75% of programmes these days) and then get the 'experts' (someone who's been on TV) to fix the country for them - Jamie Oliver, Sir Alan (three bags full!) or Mary Portas. Poor Mary - the unscrupulous con-men in government pushed her out into the tumbleweed 'high streets' with a few pantomime horse outfits and a whole Million Pounds in her little purse. As Noel Edmunds would say "a life-changing amount of money." (compare 25 billion).  Our pantomime horse outfit never arrived (and anyway I'm not going to be the back-end and that's final!) so we are shutting-down.
  Did I mention my rates have increase by 125% in three years and that I pay considerably more per square metre than the Sainsbury superstore next door?
  Wouldn't starting zoning from the back of the shop be closer to a progressive taxation- system especially in these days of 'click and collect' which is making warehouse space as valuable as high street frontage?

4. I'm so angry about the insult of the rates I nearly forgot 'Oxazon'! Amazon, as it is widely known as, struggled for more than eight years before they made a profit. Yes, I know, us booksellers are pushing for that record at the moment.
  Someone up there in the great candy floss machine of the money market kept dipping their stick in to keep them going until they achieved monopoly position. Meanwhile, they trailed the great wooden horse of internet bookselling up to our ramparts and we all rushed and pulled the necrotic parasitic beast inside.
  For us 'second-handers' while Amazon was delivering crushing volleys of lefts and rights to the body a new corporate giant arose from an unexpected quarter: the Big Society.
  Oxfam fervently abandoned its conscience domestically and joined the capitalism game. They employing a big-hitter from the city who rolled out a chain of 'Conranised white cubes' which chimed with the minimalised modernity of middle-class culture - more and more of less an less. If they claim innocence of delivering the knock-out blow to second-hand bookselling, they are at least guilty of holding the bully's coat and delivering sly and sickening kicks to our ankles.

5. Apart from the weather having a nervous break-down this year, our shop has had other severe environmental problems. As soon as the snow clears or torrential rain stops, the privatised utilities, or the railway, or TFL, or somebody arrives to dig up the pavement outside, and palisade the shop against passing trade. Obligingly, at quiet times - like Christmas.
  As TV cook fans will know, freshly-dug trenches have to be 'proved' like dough for several weeks before they can be worked on, and allowed to settle for a similar period afterwards before they can be filled-in. This gives the prisoner time to try to claim for collateral damages such as broken windows and ringing up Paris to find out when the hole might be filled in. Isn't business so cosmopolitan these days? They even have a French phrase for the powers that these organisations have over you - 'droits de seigneur' which, I believe, has vulgar sexual connotations.

5. Mrs Thatcher abolished UBR to stop Commie-councils from raping business with exploitative business rates to pay for the feckless poor. And so our story ends where we began, except that it's the government that is raping businesses to bail-out the feckless rich.

6. So if the government would only start looking after the voting-tax payer and stop playing little boys games: if it could lose its fascination with things 'big'; big funerals, big Olympics, big London, big 'small wars', big society, big business, big ideologies (yes, free-market is an ideology) and provide some bigger government for small business, perhaps, as even Lord Young has recently claimed, we could start to cure our economic woes from the bottom-up by soaking-up unemployment. The 'clones' might get less of a kicking from the 'clowns'.

To booksellers everywhere 'Good-bye and Good luck'. Doug Jeffers - MY Back Pages, Balham - and yes Closing sale Now On!


Paul Bailey said...

Some good points, and nicely put across; not that I expect the powers that be will take much notice of them though.

Paul Bailey said...

Btw, TB, wasn't Doug Jeffers the man you had a bit of a spat with a few years ago? Can't remember what it was about now; I'll have to have a trawl back through your blog to see what sparked it off.