Is Queen’s bookshop in danger?

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South Belfast’s oldest independent bookshop could close its doors after admitting it is “considering its options” the South Belfast News can reveal.The Bookshop at Queen’s, situated opposite the main university building on University Road, is currently the focus of a procedure by the university that could see it shut.A Queen’s spokesperson said no final decision had yet been made on the bookshop’s future but referred to the difficult market in which independent traders are operating.“Queen’s University understands that in light of the current competitive market for independent book retailers, the Bookshop at Queen’s is considering its strategic options. This process is ongoing,” said the spokesperson.The bookshop celebrated its 50th anniversary only three years ago. Then, manager Tim Smyth, who has worked at the store for 22 years, admitted to the SBN things were not getting easier.“The biggest change for us is the level of competition we have seen,” said Tim at the time. “The ways in which books can be obtained are an awful lot easier and more widespread. It is difficult for us to deal with the likes of the internet on a growing basis.“It’s difficult out there and it is getting worse, there’s no doubt about that. In addition to the usual problems independent retailers face, we now also have the problems associated with the general downturn in the economy,” he said.This week Tim said he could not add anything to Queen’s statement.Throughout its time, the bookshop was the launching pad for many influential works, with the likes of acclaimed authors Brian Moore, Ian McEwan and Maeve Binchy, as well as former first minister David Trimble using it to launch various books. A former winner of the Academic Bookshop of the Year title, it is one of only four university bookshops in Ireland and Britain.David Torrens, owner of Botanic Avenue independent bookstore No Alibis, said if the Bookshop at Queen’s were to close, it would be a blow for the university area.“The service they have provided to students and indeed people within the university community would be missed greatly. It would be a loss to people who have been using that bookshop for many years if it closes.“However the situation then occurs where you wonder what would take its place, whether it be a multinational or another independent retailer. I know the university has made great efforts on behalf of the bookshop to keep it open but they may have decided it is not sensible to keep it open just for the sake of it being there.”David added he believed more independent retailers throughout South Belfast could close their doors before the economic situation improved.“We have poetry and music events at No Alibis among other things, even though our core business is still the bookshop. We have had to diversify an awful lot and make difficult decisions over the years, otherwise our position would also be seriously jeopardised. “Those who are in charge of laying down legislation need to look at independent stores and the service they provide to the community, and adapt rates and rent to help them out more than they currently do, otherwise this will happen more and more.”. I sincerely hope this does not come to pass. I lived going in there. Wonderful staff. Stacks of books! What more does one want?


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