Saturday, January 23, 2010

Exit Pursued by a Union: Brewer Pulls the Plug on Durham Shop

News on various blogs in the last 24 hours of the final moments of what used to be SPCK Bookshops. Regular readers will know that they were taken over by Texan family Phil and Mark Brewer a few years ago, and that the chain has gradually fallen apart amidst mistreatment of staff and attempted gagging of bloggers reporting the story.

The Charity Commissioners took possession of all but two remaining shops earlier this year, and settled out of court with 30 staff who, with the help of USDAW, were pursuing the Brewers for unfair dismissal and non-payment of wages. Then Chichester was seized and has now re-opened under the former manager to great rejoicing. I guess marching into the heart of Durham Cathedral was going to be difficult for a government agency, but Durham themselves gave 12 months notice on the bookshop in April 2009, and this week the Brewers threw in the towel and closed the shop, just after various health and safety concerns had forced the removal of the remaining stock from the main selling space, the Great Kitchen.

The Durham Cathedral site states that a new shop will open on the site in due course. I hope, for the sake of the existing staff, that it's sooner rather than later, and that the shop can recover some of the damage to its reputation inflicted by the mismanagement of the last couple of years.

From what I'm aware, there remain unpaid bills both to suppliers and to staff which the Brewers are liable for. I don't know if extradition policy works both ways, but it would be nice to think that they can't just disappear off into the USA undergrowth without some kind of accountability.

Another concern at this stage is that the new shop may follow the line pursued in other Cathedral bookshops, of going for the tourist market more than the theological book trade. Without the buying power of a decent sized chain (as SPCK was), an independent store may copy the likes of, say, Salisbury (to pick a local example - I've not done a comprehensive survey of all the cathedrals) and go for the dollars. That would be understandable, especially given the massive maintenance bill on Cathedrals, but it would be a loss as well.


  1. For accuracy sake and to be strictly fair on dear Salisbury the Cathedral shop is a bit of a tourist thing, but we do have the excellent Sarum College book shop just across the Close for the theologically minded amongst us, mind you tea towels are always useful come the Nativity Play...

  2. Fair point howard, though Salisbury has lost its SPCK shop to the Brewers, and last I heard the Sarum college shop was going to be downsized - has that materialised?

  3. Happy to report that the Sarum College bookshop is thriving, with a wide range of titles and currently an excellent selection on Lent.
    There's also a book launch next Friday, 5 February for Esther Reed's
    Work! For God’s Sake: Christian Ethics in the Workplace

    Enjoy a glass of wine and meet the author who asks, "What is the Spiritual Meaning of Work in our Lives?"
    Friday 5th Feburary at 5.30pm. Admission free but please RSVP to Jenny at or tel. 01722 326899