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Samuel French bookshop to close after 187 years

Samuel French's theatre bookshop on Fitzroy Street, London
Samuel French's theatre bookshop on Fitzroy Street, London
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Publisher and theatrical licensing company Samuel French is to close its London bookshop after 187 years in the capital, with management blaming an "unsustainable rental increase".

The bookshop, based in Fitzroy Street, London, will close in April, with all of its bookselling activity moved online. The company said it currently sells four out of every five books online.

Managing director Douglas Schatz told The Stage that the rent on the premises, which also houses the company’s offices, had increased by about 200-300% over the last five years.

“That has been the biggest factor [driving this decision], no question,” he said.

He added: “It’s the way the market, the landscape of retail and bookselling in particular, is going. In the last few years it’s changed immeasurably, with online retailing and ebooks. There has been a pressure on traditional bookshops and, at the same time, property costs in London have continued to rise, alongside rates and rents. It drives small, independent business out.”

Samuel French has had a bookshop in London since 1830. It moved to its current premises in 1983.

Schatz said the shop had been “diversifying” recently and that revenues in store had actually increased by about 15% over the past two years.

“But it’s nothing like enough to bridge the gap with the rent,” he said.

Following the closure, the company’s offices will move to new premises near Euston, where the publishing and licensing arms of the company will be based. Schatz said the premises would enable the company to accommodate customer-focused events, with enough space to host about 50 people.

“We want to stay in touch with customers as there is nothing like face to face,” he said.

Schatz also said that customers who have been used to seeking advice from staff in the store would benefit from an enhanced customer-service offering.

“We have a great team here who know theatre and books inside out, so we will be at the end of the phone and on live chat. We won’t be a faceless online business. We want to make it very personal and part of the community,” he added.

Samuel French currently employs 20 people in the UK, and Schatz said many of these would be redeployed to other parts of the business.

He could not rule out job cuts but said the organisation would “minimise that”.

When the shop closes, a selection of its remaining theatre book stock will be donated to libraries and drama schools, which Schatz said were its “core customers”.

“It’s been difficult for us. We have gone about it every which way. We know the shop has more value than just financial, and we have tried to square that circle. But there comes a point when the gap is just too big,” Schatz said.

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