PAUL GADSBY

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Embarrassing climbdown by Waterstones

This doesn’t happen very often: there has been a small victory for independent bookshops over one of the big boys this week…

National bookselling chain Waterstones was forced to backtrack on its intention to open one of its unbranded stores in the same Edinburgh suburb that is already home to an independent bookshop.

The retail giant caused controversy last year when it announced it was opening three outlets in Southwold, Harpenden and Rye without the company’s traditional branding and with different names. The move led to accusations that the stores would surreptitiously appear to shoppers as independent bookshops (surely not?), with just a handwritten notice in the window declaring the true identity of the owners.

Waterstones chief executive, James Daunt, said at the time: “They are very small shops in towns that had independents and very much wish they still had independents but don’t.”

But plans emerged earlier this week that Waterstones was going to open a further unbranded store in the Edinburgh district of Stockbridge where – lo and behold – an independent, Golden Hare Books, is indeed trading, and has been for four years.

The shop’s not-best-pleased manager Julie Danskin told The Guardian: “This will be masquerading as an independent bookshop.”

“James Daunt talks a lot about an even playing field and working with independent brands, but this is essentially backtracking on his previous statements,” she added.

“We don’t have plans to go anywhere and really hope that people will choose to support us, but if more chains open up then we are going to see a homogenisation of streets.”

Daunt was quoted in the Bookseller as saying: “We will be calling it Stockbridge Books and look forward greatly to its opening.”

However, after a swift public backlash following the announcement, Waterstones was forced to change its tune and declared the new Stockbridge store would now display the Waterstones name and familiar branding. Daunt said: “We messed up.”

Yes, you did James – now how about reversing your original sleazy plan and uncovering all your unbranded shops?

There was always something sinister about the tactic of a chain opening unbranded stores under different names; deliberately posing as something you’re not in order to make more cash is simply not on. These shops are just trying to fool people into thinking that they’re bringing much-needed vibrancy to the high street, when in fact all they’re doing is homogenising it.

Do the right thing, Waterstones – claim what you own and work with it.

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