Exclusive revamps Johannesburg flagship store to ‘make books sexy’

Exclusive revamps Johannesburg flagship store to ‘make books sexy’

Exclusive Books has redesigned its flagship Johannesburg store, with the result breaking “the shackles and restraints of the chain-store mentality” in order to make books “sexy” again.

The South African chain, run by Benjamin Trisk, opened a flagship branch in Hyde Park Corner, Johannesburg, in December 2013. It has just unveiled an extravagant revamp, featuring a restaurant and a panoramic forest view; the refit was masterminded by husband-and-wife architect team Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, recruited by Trisk.

Exclusive Books has revamped its Hyde Park Corner, Johannesburg, branch.

The bookshop now has a Social Kitchen & Bar, headed by former Le Gavroche chef Russell Armstrong, a place where “books flow into the restaurant”. Exclusive Books said: “The customer does not know quite where the bookshop ends and where the marvellous new restaurant begins.”

At 1,420 sq m, the venue is three times larger than the average size of Exclusive Books’ 41 other stores (the books section occupies 820 sq m) and it boasts a 40-metre span of glass, enabling visitors to overlook Johannesburg’s “glorious” urban forest.

The store is three times larger than the average size of Exclusive Books.

Trisk “persuaded” Rech and Carstens to work on retail design concepts for Exclusive Books, and the company said the ensuing partnership was “a collision of style”. “Trisk wants design so that he can sell stuff; Silvio and Lesley want design that puts form ahead of function. But both agree that the cookie-cutter approach to chain-store design is outmoded,” Exclusive Books said.

The shop has a panoramic view.

The Social Kitchen & Bar, featuring an expanse of wooden tables, serves fine food among shelves displaying some 70,000 different titles. “Trisk wants stores that make books sexy but that carry the cultural heart of Exclusive Books from development to development, always seeking to break the shackles and restraints of the chain store mentality,” Exclusive said, adding that the result was an “extraordinary space” with “every tile, every piece of parquet in place for a reason”.

The Social Kitchen & Bar serves fine food.

The rejuvenated store will have an official opening at the end of January, but Trisk told The Bookseller the new concept has already proved successful, with book sales up year on year by 20%–30% since the store reopened.

This branch will now be a blueprint for the chain’s future stores. “I have the sense to do this . . . so as long as the shareholders have the money to do it, I will do it,” Trisk said. The literature enthusiast also revealed that he was looking into expanding the chain abroad. “I do not know about the UK, but we would like to open in Europe,” he said. “The countries to the east of Germany particularly interest me—Romania, Hungary, Austria—as does Florence, possibly Barcelona, maybe San Francisco.”

The coffee bar includes cracks in the white tile that are filled with gold leaf.

The coffee bar has white tiles that have been broken with a hammer, with the cracks filled in with gold leaf. Inspired by Anahi, an Argentinian restaurant in Paris, Trisk said he wanted “less regularity and something that spoke more of imperfection” in the shop. As for the restaurant, Exclusive Books said the idea made sense because great food and great literature were natural bedfellows: “Dinners should be convivial experiences where conversation flows around the food and around the thousands of ideas that hurl themselves at guests from every cover, from every spine.”

Trisk bought Exclusive Books in 2013 with investor Mark Barnes (now chairman), and backed by Global Capital Proprietary Ltd, for around R90m (£5m). He first worked for the firm in 1978.

The shop displays some 70,000 titles.