Book giant Waterstones has been accused of ‘dishonesty’ after opening quaint unbranded high street shops that appear to be independent.
The move has sparked claims that the company is sneakily avoiding the backlash against the growing homogenisation of Britain’s high streets. But the smaller shops have been such a success that Waterstones is keen to launch more.
Southwold Books, which occupies a Grade II listed building in the Suffolk town, is one of three incognito stores to have opened. The others are in Rye, East Sussex, and Harpenden, Hertfordshire.
Southwold Books, in the Suffolktown, is one of three incognito stores to have opened
In Southwold, the shop’s name is written in plain lettering on a sky-blue background above the front door and on a traditional swinging sign. Only a tiny handwritten notice at the bottom of a window that reads ‘Southwold Books is the trading name of Waterstones Booksellers Ltd’ reveals the identity of the owner.
Shops in Southwold High Street are facing an average rise in business rates of 177 per cent over the next five years. Many independent shopkeepers blame the arrival of national chains for pushing up rents, which in turn affects the rates.
John Wells, 77, owner of Wells of Southwold, which has been selling books, cards and gifts for 30 years, said: ‘To call themselves Southwold Books is a bit naughty. Locals know what the shop is but visitors don’t.’
A similar store has opened in Rye, where critics said locals would have been ‘up in arms’ if they knew Waterstones was moving in
In Rye, the Waterstones-owned store is called The Rye Bookshop. Chris Viner, 77, who paints and sells toy soldiers from his nearby studio, said: ‘I suspect Waterstones wouldn’t have been able to set up shop if they had stuck a big sign on the front. The whole town would have been up in arms. They would have had their pitchforks out.’
Clive Sawyer, 66, who owns a gallery a few doors along, added: ‘Waterstones has crept in under the guise of a nice, independent book store, which it simply isn’t. Ultimately, it’s the dishonesty I really dislike.’
Last night, James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said branding small shops as being independent helped them integrate with local communities in smaller towns.
He said it was part of his ‘crusade’ to get the chain to behave like an independent bookseller, with each shop having its own identity.
He added: ‘We don’t pretend we are not Waterstones. The idea that this is some type of subterfuge is ridiculous.’
The retailer has been accused of being sneaky for not having its name in big letters on the new signs