Brighton book chain in administration placing 300 jobs at risk

Posted On 13 Jan 2011 at 11:59 pm

A Brighton-based chain of bookshops has gone into administration placing more than 300 jobs at risk.

Shops owned by British Bookshops and Stationers – formerly Sussex Stationers – will stay open while the administrators try to find a buyer.

The chain has its head office in Crowhurst Road, Hollingbury, and runs 51 shops in southern England.

They include stores in Western Road and London Road in Brighton and George Street in Hove.

Its shop in Station Road in Portslade was closed a couple of years ago when the former St James’s Street branch in Brighton also closed and became a Starbucks coffee shop.

The discount bookstore has been refitting and rebranding its surviving outlets over the past 18 months.

It has opened 12 new branches as well as adding newspapers and magazines to its sales mix.

Its problems have been blamed in part on the economic downturn, exacerbated by the snow and ice keeping shoppers away in the crucial run up to Christmas.

Simon Appell, Fraser Gray and Stuart Mackellar, of Zolfo Cooper, the international business recovery specialists, have been appointed administrators.

Protection

They have invited GA Europe, the restructuring and stock disposal specialist, to run the chain which lost £6 million on sales of £25.7 million in the year to 31 January 2010.

The process of administration is designed to give indebted companies protection from their creditors for up to a year.

The Bookseller website said that Macmillan Distribution, the book distributor also known as MDL, had stopped supplying British Bookshops because of an unpaid bill.

Its report can be seen here.

The British Bookshops website is carrying a message that says: “Site off-line. This website is temporarily unavailable.”

It was reported to have stopped accepting orders last weekend.

Mr Appell said: “This is an attractive company with a large network of stores across the south of England and we have already received expressions of interest from potential buyers.”

Founded

The company was founded as Sussex Stationers in Haywards Heath in 1938, although some of the businesses that later became part of Sussex Stationers date back more than a hundred years.

Michael and Jonathan Chowen bought the store for £600 in 1971.

They gradually built up a chain of 50 shops and turned the stationery business into one that included books.

Thirty five years ago they bought Bredon’s, which had its main book and card shop in East Street, Brighton.

Other purchases included two Brighton stationers, Beals in East Street and Walter Gillett in Market Street.

Combridge’s – a printer and stationer which dated back to before the First World War – in Church Road, Hove, was also taken over.

The Chowen brothers sold the chain to Eason’s, the Irish bookseller, for £30 million in 2004.

Michael Chowen has since become a generous benefactor, donating six-figure sums to Brighton University and the Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

In May 2009 Endless, the private equity firm, bought the loss-making chain and in February last year backed a management buyout by chief executive John Simpson and finance director Ford Watson.

One customer said: “I hope the company survives because most of the staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable despite the turmoil of the past few years.

“The shops don’t have the same range as Waterstone’s but they’ll order anything in and the most popular books are as cheap as you’ll find.”

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