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'Oxfam killed my bookshop'
A BOOKSELLER says competition from an Oxfam charity shop has forced him to close his store.
Marc Harrison closed Ellwood Books in Winchester Street, Salisbury, on Saturday having seen his takings slump by more than £2,000 a month.
He said when the charity opened its bookshop in Catherine Street 18 months ago, his income halved overnight.
“Within six months, two other secondhand bookshops had gone. It was only my Internet business which kept me going. But I can’t hold on any more,” he added.
“Oxfam is the Tesco of the second-hand book world. It is destroying the industry.”
Oxfam bookshop manager, David Taylor, defended the charity’s decision to make as much as possible from donated books, and blamed Internet sellers for the bookshops’ problems.
But Mr Harrison, whose bearded collie, Mitchell, was a familiar sight snoozing in his shop window, said Oxfam uses its huge resources to rent premises in a prime location and pay a manager.
Its staff are volunteers, and its stock is free. As a charity, it gets an 80 per cent reduction in business rates.
“It’s unfair competition,” he said.
“Half our business is rare old editions but, in a recession, people aren’t buying so many.
“We pay our bills from the sale of £2 paperbacks or hardbacks for under £5, and Oxfam has destroyed that.
“It opens up specialist shops and they are killing the trade. It targets towns which already have secondhand bookshops, because it knows there’s a ready market.”
Mr Harrison, a member of the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association, claimed there was no official help for small traders.
“I wanted to play Radio 4 in the shop but was told it would cost me £300 a year in performing rights payments,” he said. “The parking restrictions are terrible, and even the Christmas lights don’t extend beyond Brown Street.
“We’ve got a lovely landlord, who hasn’t put the rent up in years, and has let us go with six months still on our lease, and we are very grateful for it.
“But I am walking away with a lot of debts.
It’s the end of an era.”
He will continue his Internet business at www.ellwoodbooks.com and will also sell at local book fairs.
But he said: “I am going to miss talking to my customers. Mitchell will miss it too. He loves being here in the shop, and people bringing in treats for him.”
Mr Taylor said he had “a great deal of sympathy” for Mr Harrison. “Our lower costs do give us an advantage. But Oxfam got fed up with people buying books in its shops for 50p and selling them on for a profit. It decided to be more professional.
“And large chains do put small stores out of business. It has also happened to the new book trade. To single out Oxfam is unfair. It’s not really a local issue, but a national one.”
Mr Taylor claimed web sales were the real problem: “Internet sellers have no overheads, they can operate from a bedsit. They have brought prices down to less than 20 years ago.”
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