A tech entrepreneur who was formerly an adviser to David Cameron is set to open a 830 sq ft “experiential” independent bookshop located on Brick Lane in east London.
Rohan Silva (pictured above, right) and his business partner Sam Aldenton (pictured above, left) are the founders of Second Home, an old carpet factory off Brick Lane that the pair transformed into a £3m “utopian workspace” for creative companies. It currently houses firms such as SurveyMonkey, TaskRabbit, Artsy and Foursquare, and Santander’s new £100m financial technology fund.
The 24,000 sq ft Second Home building features seethrough rooms that look like fish tanks, mismatching décor and an indoor “hanging garden” area, in which electronic devices are banned.
For the duo’s next venture, they will open a 830 sq foot bookshop on Hanbury Street designed to attract Millennials. It will house a bar, DJ turntables and an in-house printing press. An anonymous job advert for a general manager for the store which ran in The Bookseller recently caused a stir on social media and resulted in “hundreds” of applicants for the position, Silva said, when it called for “a highly dynamic and bookish general manager to help create an interdisciplinary space that crosses books with booze with an in- house printing operation and DJ sets.”
Silva told The Bookseller: “We think there is a big unmet demand for the type of bookshop we want to produce. If you offer a bookshop with the right experience and space to the young crowd in London, there is a big commercial opportunity. This is a golden moment for bookshops.” He added “If you look at many companies which started off as websites, such as Moo.com, they are starting to open physical spaces.
If you want to open a bookshop doing what everyone else is doing— and has done for 30 or 40 years—it might be tough. But if you are creating a bookshop as a real space for an experience and events, where you are just as likely to hear a new DJ set as find a new author, you can really do very well.
“Bookshops that offer something different are thriving. If you do that, it will really resonate with young Millennials who enjoy learning. There is a huge opportunity.”
Silva, a former adviser to the Treasury and 10 Downing Street, championed the creation of Tech City—known as the UK’s “Silicon Roundabout”, it is loosely located around the Old Street roundabout—in his time as a political adviser. As a passionate literature lover, he also set up a philosophy reading group in Whitehall during his time in politics and originally left Westminster to set up an online education company, which has since been shelved.
“We are passionate about books and ideas, and beautiful physical books are such wonderful things to be exposed to,” Silva said. “You can go into a bookshop wanting one thing and have a serendipitous moment and come out with a book on quantum physics.”
The bookshop will house 5,000–6,000 titles over two floors. Silva said the venture will be “first and foremost a bookshop, but one that will also offer customers a glass of whisky or wine if they want a tipple while they sit down to read a book”. He added that the company would not charge for the beverages offered to customers while browsing. He continued: “It will hold lots of events and will have an in-house printing press in the basement of the bookshop, which is really exciting. We are thinking about the bookshop as an experience where you can see physical books being printed and bound, adding texture. These are the things a physical bookshop can do that Amazon can’t.”
Silva said he hoped to open another bookshop in a different city next year if the venture is successful, with the potential to start a chain. The London shop will open in early December, with its name to be revealed in due course.