Specialist theatre bookshop Samuel French has been forced to close after 34 years following a “crippling” hike in rent by its landlord.
The bookseller’s m.d Douglas Schatz said it was with a “heavy heart” he had to close the store in London’s Fitzroy Street, frequented by drama students, actors and producers, in mid-April after the landlord demanded a 200% hike in rent.
Samuel French has pledged to donate a selection of its remaining theatre book stock to major UK drama schools and libraries when the shop closes.
The UK arm of the Samuel French business was founded by Thomas Hailes Lacy in 1830 and a bookshop has existed on various sites around London since that time, moving to its present location in Fitzroy Street in 1983.
Schatz said the bookshop had seen sales grow by 15% over the last two years after it diversified in theatre merchandise, travel books and fiction, and the only reason it had been forced to close was the rent increase, which followed a rent review which last took place five years ago.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we announce the closure of our bookshop in April – we’re extremely sad to see it go and send a huge thank you to all the staff and customers from all over the world who’ve supported the shop through the years,” said Schatz.
He told The Bookseller: “With the property costs the way they are, it is just not viable to have success as a specialist bookshop now unfortunately. Sales were up 15% over the last two years after we diversified our range of theatre gift merchandise we stocked. We were even selling books about London and a small fiction range. We wouldn’t have closed it if it hadn’t have been for this rent increase."
Schatz said that business rate rises also played a part in the bookshop’s closure but the “crippling” rent rise was the biggest factor.
The company, which publishes 3,000 plays and is the largest licensee of plays in the UK, is now set to concentrate on its online business, which already accounts for four out of five sales.
It has recently launched "Abbott", its own e-reading platform for plays, and an expanded suite of online resources for actors. Going forward, it plans to re-launch of the company’s renowned Acting Edition play text series, as well as increase range of events in London and around the UK.
Schatz said: “We are… very excited about the future of Samuel French, with the growth of our online shop, our innovation in digital play reading, the forthcoming re-launch of our Acting Edition play texts and our expanding catalogue of new authors.”
The company’s office, currently based above the bookshop, is moving to Euston and will contain an event space for 50 people.
Three booksellers currently work in the store and the company is hoping to redeploy them elsewhere in the digital side of the business.