People from across London and around the globe have been sharing their dismay that one of the capital’s most treasured bookshops has announced that it will close.
The Samuel French Theatre Bookshop on Fitzroy Street, just off Tottenham Court Road, will cease trading in April after 187 years due primarily to successive large rent increases, amounting to up to 300% over the past five years according to its managing director.
The news, which broke last week, prompted the launch of an online petition to save the shop which has quickly attracted nearly 4,500 signatures, even though Camden Council, at which it is aimed, is not the shop’s landlord and has no powers to intervene.
Signatories include people from New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Italy, Australia, Denmark, Sri Lanka, Malta and Japan and parts of the United Kingdom from Cornwall to Glasgow as well as many Londoners.
Jill Greig from Crediton in Devon described the shop as “an iconic part of London’s great history” while Anver Anderson from Chelmsford in Essex called it “part of a great tradition for a wonderful industry” and Joe Middleton from Leicester “a place of national heritage”. For Per Brink Abrahamsen from Aarhus in Denmark French’s is “the best theatre bookshop in the world”.
Characterising the shop as “an inherent good”, Londoner Neal Romanek wrote that “from London to Los Angeles the name of Samuel French is synonymous with London’s theatre culture. Edgar Numrich from Portland, Oregon, said if the “madness” of the closure was not stopped it would be akin to “behaving like Trump”.
Two days ago Councillor Abdul Hair, Camden’s cabinet member for customers, communities and culture, responded to the petition, pointing out that the council has no control over the rents set by the shop’s private landlord but expressing his own disappointment over the coming loss of “such a popular cultural resource for people for so many years”.
Young London actors have been expressing their sadness at the news. Speaking to The National Student, Francesca Dell from the Identity School of Acting praised it as place where she could “sit and look through plays for hours on end if need be” in search for monologues for auditions and Kat Dulfer from the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts said the shop’s closure “will have a massive impact on actors” and that it had “offered me some great advice over the years” as well as being a source for scripts.
The Samuel French company, whose business also includes publishing and licensing, will be able hold events for customers at its new premises in Euston so that a face-to-face relationship can be maintained. Managing director Douglas Schatz has told The Stage: “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.”
With soaring rents threatening many of London’s independent retailers and character areas Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to strengthen existing protections for small shops and other businesses in a revised London Plan, the overarching planning policy document for the capital’s development. An outline of his thinking for changes to the Plan as a whole was published last autumn.