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:
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
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
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
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
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!