To the naked eye, Southwold Bookshop is an authentic, independent seller, enriching the character of a small seaside town. But if one is to look deeper into the true nature of the store, they will find it is entirely owned by retail giants Waterstones.
Having opened this month, the shop becomes the first Waterstones shop to trade under a different name. With many book-worms favouring the intimacy of independent sellers, the company have decided to try to manufacture this appeal with an experimental branding decision in the small town of Southwold.
Big chain brands have caught on to the trend of independent stores. Most notably, Harris + Hoole seemed to be the new, cool independent coffee shop on the block before it was revealed that it was financially backed by supermarket titans Tesco. Harris + Hoole’s connections with Tesco were kept quiet, leading to many customers feeling outraged at the thought they had been duped into thinking the coffee sellers were something they were not.
Many in the Southwold area have expressed great concern that the likes of Waterstones will drive local businesses out of the area, but it is not just those in the area who are worried. The move will distress independent shops throughout the country who rely on their charm to compete against the major players.
Jason Burley, owner of the independent Camden Lock Books, was clearly anxious about the future of the industry. He said: “I think major chains setting up ‘independent’ branches, not under their own banner, is them clearly pretending to be what they’re not: a totally focused local retail outlet with highly self-motivated staff offering a vastly superior service”.
Having run his shop for 30 years, Burley has overseen ‘a number of stagnant years’, but this year he described sales as ‘buoyant’ due to a spike in interest in what is becoming a popular market.
With things finally looking up for independent book retailers, the thought that huge companies will return to trample over their business by mimicking their chic is a depressing one. In the end, the consumer will decide if David really can topple Goliath.