Two brothers are looking to sell their 110-year-old bookshop to an enthusiastic new owner—and hope a philanthropic gesture will help attract the right buyer.
Based in the historic market town of Aylsham, Norfolk, F C Barnwell & Sons has been run by 74-year-old Gwen Wright for the past 47 years, but the manager is soon looking to retire. The shop, which is the "life and soul" of the community, was founded by Charles Harry Barnwell, great-grandfather of its current owners, brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, who also run printing firm Barnwell Print.
No other members of the Barnwell family are in a position to take on the running of the bookshop and newsagent, but the brothers “don’t want to lose it for Aylsham”, where it is the pride of the community, Julian Barnwell said. To ensure the continuation of the shop, the pair are willing to donate the majority of the cost of the stock and fixtures and fittings in order to give an enthusiastic new owner "a head-start".
Julian Barnwell said: "The business has been on the same premises since 1908. We want it to continue for the community, and we are willing to part ways with it with a lot of goodwill from us: we will donate the cost of the stock and fixtures and fittings. But in return we would want to see security in the business planning; we would like to see a business plan. We wouldn’t want to give it away to just anybody."
He added: "The shop has been in our family for more than 100 years. It has been a fantastic shop, but our core business is printing now. Aylsham is a historic market town with many family-run businesses, including an award-winning butcher. It has got that lovely community feel to it. The staff have a lot of fun in the store: there is
lots of banter with customers and a good rapport. It is a bit of an Aladdin’s Cave, and there are lots of opportunities to grow the business. It doesn’t even have a website at the moment, for example."
The shop currently has turnover of around £300,000 a year, is profitable and has a regular customer base of 400 people a week who receive newspaper deliveries, although the Barnwells would charge rent on the premises. It currently has five part-time staff.
Wright said she had most enjoyed interacting with the Aylsham shop’s customers over her four decades in charge of the business. "The shop is part of my life now," she told The Bookseller. "I worked for Julian’s dad, Mr Barnwell, at first. He had me sorting envelopes in my first few days and I thought, ‘I am not even going to be here a week’, but I ended up being here 47 years. It is a lovely environment to work in with really lovely people. We get boxes of chocolates and cards from customers at Christmas time thanking us for our service."
Those interested in the venture can contact Julian Barnwell on firstname.lastname@example.org.