London map and travel book specialist Stanfords has launched a £120,000 crowdfunding campaign and warned that the coronavirus crisis has put its future in “grave danger”.
Founded in 1853, the Covent Garden store's famous customers have included explorers ranging from David Livingstone, Ernest Shackleton and Florence Nightingale to Bill Bryson and Michael Palin. Past employees include Kenneth Williams, who was a mapmaker's draftsman at Stanfords before he turned to acting. In 2015, Stanfords set up its own Travel Writing Awards, which became an annual staple for the industry.
Stanfords has a store in Bristol and a business-focused branch in Manchester which both have their head above water. However, the London shop has been hit particularly badly with the collapse in travel, the lack of visitors to its central London home and expenses of rent, tax and wages.
Vivien Godfrey, chairman and c.e.o. of the Edward Stanford Group, who part-owns the firm with brother Joe, said: “We have expenses associated with a shop in central London that we just can't cover when nobody is coming into central London, be they local Londoners or tourists, and we rely on both. We have a lot of customers who live outside London or the UK who, when they come to London, make a special trip to Stanfords and so I don't even think of them as tourists, they're destination customers and we are sorely lacking those at the moment.”
When the shop reopened in July, sales were down 90%, with a gradual improvement to around 30% before slightly falling again. Currently, sales are around 25% of normal levels, but the shop still needs to be properly staffed by its expert employees, many of whom have worked there for years.
Support has come from the store's landlord and Westminster City Council has waived rate payments but across the business 22 staff have been made redundant out of a total of 55, with another three on unpaid leave and 11 furloughed.
Now its owners have launched a crowdfunding campaign via the Mayor of London's Pay it Forward site in a bid to survive until spring 2021 when it is hoped business will pick up again. The shop says it needs £20,000 each month for the next six months to avoid closure.
The campaign was launched last week and, by 5 p.m. on 3rd November, had already amassed over £66,000. Those who donate certain amounts are eligible for rewards ranging from personalised prints and maps to guided tours. Money raised will go towards the costs of making the store coronavirus secure, staff wages and improvements to its website.
Donors have left comments on the crowdfunding page branding it one of the best shops on the planet and an “absolute gem”. One wrote: “Every time I go to London I visit Stanfords — my favourite shop in the world. Losing it would be a tragedy.”
In a testimonial on the site author Robert Macfarlane said: "Stanfords is both a bookstore and a magic carpet. For more than 160 years, it has been transporting readers to every part of the world. It is a place to plan real journeys and to dream of impossible ones. It is a temple to maps, guidebooks and the literature of travel. I was first taken there as a wide-eyed child, and have been back many dozens of times since. I'll never forget the time I first saw my own books in the window of Stanfords. For decades this store and its knowledgeable, generous staff have been inspiring people and supporting writers and cartographers. Stanfords must not close its doors!"
Godfrey, whose parents previously owned the firm, said she had been incredibly touched by the comments, adding: “It puts the hairs up on the back of my neck just the degree to which people are being so supportive and we're deeply grateful. The primary shareholders are myself and my brother. We have put an incredible amount of money into this business and we're just tapped out. We can't put any more in but we don't want to see the business go under so really, when I read about the Mayor of London's initiative I thought we have to do this, this is our final opportunity.”
She said early support had been buoyed following an email by the Destinations travel show, which the business always exhibits at and runs a Travel Writers Festival from, alongside an article in the Guardian. Regular customers have also flooded the site with donations.
However, she said there was still huge uncertainty over what the New Year would bring. She said: “Given the level of support we've received, we hope this support will see us through but we launched the campaign even before this new lockdown and that's added an additional level of risk and unpredictability and I suppose the same is going to continue.
“Independent businesses don't have access to secure debt. The fundamental thing people need to understand, and most people do, is that large businesses can access debt and at the moment interest rates are so low they can secure it at not very great rates of interest to tide them over. Independent businesses just don't have a way of accessing that because the banks are risk averse and there's very few other ways to raise funds.”