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The UK, Waterstones Opens ‘Unbranded’ Small Bookstores To Some Backlash

Feb 27, 2017

 The Waterstones store in Southwold is located in a grade II-listed building, and has a sign written in plain lettering above the front door. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The managing director of book retailer Waterstones has defended the company’s decision to open three unbranded stores, saying it will be good for “customers, town centres and... staff.”

Waterstones has recently opened three stores under different names, sparking accusations that they are posing as independent bookshops to avoid the backlash against the homogenisation of Britain’s high streets.

The stores, in Rye, Southwold and Harpenden, have opened with only a handwritten notice in the window stating the owners’ true identity.

Local competitors have complained about the tactic saying many traders in the towns would have opposed the new stores if they had realised they were owned by Waterstones.

However, the company’s managing director, James Daunt, denied Waterstones was using subterfuge to attract customers, and said he wanted the company to have stores with their own identities.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “The vast majority [of people] have welcomed them greatly. They are very small shops in towns that had independents and very much wish they still had independents but don’t.

“We can’t open up great big Waterstones here but we can open up small ones. We are coming into quite sensitive high streets with predominantly independent retailers on them and we wish to behave as they do.”

Many shopkeepers in the towns blame the arrival of national chains for pushing up rents and therefore affecting business rates, which are due to rise sharply in many places over the next few years.

John Wells, 77, who has owned book, card and gift shop Wells of Southwold for 30 years, told the Mail on Sunday: “To call themselves Southwold Books is a bit naughty. Locals know what the shop is, but visitors don’t.”