Rents hike forces Catholic Westminster bookshop to close after 90 years

Rents hike forces Catholic Westminster bookshop to close after 90 years

A Catholic bookshop in Westminster is being forced to close after more than 90 years' trading as a result of rising rents.

The CTS Bookshop - which is the retail arm of the publishing charity, the Catholic Truth Society (CTS) - is based outside Westminster Cathedral and has been operational since 1926, surviving even the Blitz. However soaring rents in the area have now reached the point where it is "way beyond" what the charity can afford, CTS' general secretary Fergal Martin explained. 

Martin, who has been with the CTS for 23 years, told The Bookseller the shop had to close as it was no longer viable given that rents in the area had "significantly changed" since it last negotiated its lease and despite the support of its "dedicated" customer base, margins had become increasingly tight.

Martin said: "We've been there for 90 years and we've always had good relations with our landlords. Our lease is coming up for renewal next year and since we last signed the lease - something like 10 years ago - the area has signficiantly changed. You see all the massive development around there and the kinds of rents that are commanded for high street outlets is just different now, completely different. 

"We are a small, specialist little retail outfit and the margins are very tight. The shop has done modestly well over the years considering. It has a dedicated customer-base, but it's not a customer-base that indefinitely grows; if anything it is decreasing slightly.

"The two lungs of CTS - the publishing and the retail [arms] - breathe together, co-existing and helping each other. But the kind of increases now, we just can't sustain those kinds of rents. They are not the kind we can afford as a small outlet, others might be able to manage those kinds of figures but we can't."

With CTS's search for alternative premises ultimately unsuccessful, the closure is set to affect seven bookshop staffers, including the bookshop's manager, who has been in the role for over 20 years and her deputy, who has been with CTS for at least a decade. The others working in the shop comprised three part-timers and two Saturday staff. 

But although the 90-year-old bookshop is closing, CTS' 150-year-old publishing operation "remains strong", according to Martin. It has a print catalogue of 600 titles, extending to Bibles, Biblical reference, Christian living, history and children's books. 

Looking to the future there are grounds for optimism, Martin explained, as CTS' publishing arm is preparing to to launch a new website in January through which it will not only sell its books but will offer free content. The Vauxhall-based outfit comprises 20 staff across publishing, marketing and finance, many of whom were recently given retraining so CTS can promote its books to a greater extent via social media and will be able to double down on its fundraising efforts through events and workshops.

Martin said: "So there are plans afoot to keep on developing CTS. Albeit with regret the bookshop has to close."

The CTS Bookshop's last day of trading will be Thursday 31st January 2019, ahead of which it is currently running a sale offering a 40% discount on all stock.

The news follows the closure of another Catholic bookshop, the Padre Pio bookshop, run by Kathy Kelly, over rent increases in the same area last year.