Isla Dawes and Mark Brighton have sold Kew Bookshop and Sheen Bookshop in London to Adam Hewson and are leaving the book trade.
The pair have owned the Kew and Sheen bookshops for 13 and five years respectively, but completed the sale of the shops to Hewson earlier this week (2nd December), for an undisclosed sum.
All staff at the bookshops are staying on so there will be no disruption to customers and the shops will continue to trade "as they have always done", the pair said.
Kew Bookshop was saved from demolition two years ago after a petition, signed by over 1,800 members of the community, gained traction with the backing of then- MP Zac Goldsmith and local celebrity Gabby Logan. The council refused planning permission to the landlord, who wanted to demolish the "charming wooden building", ultimately saving the shop in June 2014.
Dawes and Brighton said they were pleased to leave behind three "thriving" independent bookshops in London, having sold their shop in Barnes at the end of September to Venetia Vyvyan, former director of Heywood Hill Bookshop.
They leave the book trade after a combined 50 years' worth of experience (20 years for Dawes, 30 for Brighton) and plan to "simplify" their lives by moving to Buxton, a spa town in Derbyshire, where they will start a new venture. Sticking to retail, they plan to run a card shop - because, "there aren't that many that are really, really good" - intending to use part of the shop to exhibit the work of local artists. Dawes said they had been running shops for "a long time" - "so we know a thing or two about that end of things" - and lessons learned after over 10 years of retailing in London stand them in good stead.
In particular Dawes said they wanted to leave London for "a simpler existence", and that it would be "nice to sell something that isn't so easily identifiable on Amazon".
"It is tough," she conceded. "We do want to sell a product not valued massively online."
Dawes' top tips for the shops' new owner were to "put your own stamp on it" and to "talk to customers".
Hewson, the shop's new owner, has been in the book trade for over 25 years, working in both chains and independent stores. He started in independent bookselling back in the 1980s before joining Waterstones Bath in the early 1990s. He managed new shop openings for Waterstones until 2000 and, after a brief time at the British Museum, joined Borders and managed Books etc. shops. When Borders closed in 2010, he joined the RHS as head of the Wisley Shop, later to take on the role of head of buying for books and book accessories for all of the RHS shops.
Hewson will continue to work part-time at the RHS, because he didn't want to make anyone at the shop redundant. Neither did he want to "miss out on all the fun" amid plans for a big expansion programme going ahead at the RHS including major redevelopment of the shops, a new Garden in Salford and a new Flower Show at Chatsworth.
"I had the decision as whether to be owner manager or owner, and chose the latter. The shops come with excellent booksellers and their knowledge of the local customers is unimprovable. To make enough for me to live on I would have had make people redundant and I don’t want to do that so, I shall stay on part time at the RHS and the RHS are supportive of this," he said. "Back at Hewson Books, this arrangement allows me to keep the excellent booksellers in place while I can spend my time looking at ways to drive the business without being fixed to one of the two shops. Wendy Hewson, who does visual merchandising for Peter Jones, will advise on display and presentation in the shops."
Hewson added: "My plans are to continue what works well. Isla created incredibly good bookshops, with great stock and created close links to the community. Although we are Hewson Books, we are keeping the shop names: The Kew Bookshop and The Sheen Bookshop. I’m going to carry on that good work that Isla did and do what I can to build on it. There are many potential opportunities to investigate. We have an excellent schools’ business already that has potential to grow. Of course, we will chase events, reading groups, kiddies fun etc. But the heart of Hewson Books will be bookselling: having the right books and brilliant staff to sell them."