Quest for Enlightenment

Menus Rearranged
The About page is now called Info and the Petition page is called Durham, which gives us space for Evidence… apologies for any confusion caused… 

Sunday Programme
The report we expected this Sunday has been postponed: probably next week.
Update, 25/9/2008:
not this coming weekend after all — watch this space…  

Petition Reminder
Our online petition to rescue Durham Cathedral Bookshop is still open: if you haven’t already signed it, please read it and consider doing so.
Thank you.

Phil Groom writes:

On Friday 19th September, Neil Denham posted some photos of the Exeter shop in its death throes: SPCK Bookshop Exeter – RIP. I’ve scaled a couple of those pictures down and reproduced them here, but it’s worth clicking through to Neil’s post to see the rest, though it makes for sad reading. Neil’s account reads rather like an obituary:

Of course it was only a shell of a business in the last few years anyway, with no new stock and terrible mismanagement and sporadic opening hours (and weeks on end of being closed), but still, it is a sad sight to see it stripped bare of stock.

Closure of SPCK/SSG Exeter, 19/09/2008

Neil cites an excerpt from an email he received:

I saw a notice declaring a Closing Down Sale with an offer of 40% off all stock. However, whatever staff they had employed were told this morning that the shop was closing today… later there were two men there and cartons (presumably of books) stacked waiting to be loaded. They said they had had instructions to clear everything… the entire stock was being transferred to York.

It’s this last half-sentence that has me puzzled and I’m hoping that someone can enlighten me. My sources tell me that stock from Birmingham was transferred to Durham; that stock from Norwich was transferred to Chichester; and now we learn that the stock from Exeter has been transferred to York.

But who, exactly, owns this stock that’s being merrily shuffled around the country? It’s a question that’s been niggling away in the back of my mind for some time now. Let’s rewind for a moment: in June the Brewers declared that SSG had “been terminated as the trading company to operate the bookshops formerly known as SPCK Bookshops” — instead, they would “be operated by ENC Management Company” (from: SSG files for bankruptcy; also at New Name for SSG?). So what exactly happened here? Did ENC buy out SSG? Or was the whole thing a deliberate fraud foisted upon the book trade by the Brewers in an attempt to evade their debts and avoid paying for this stock that’s now been reallocated to different stores?

As we’ve seen, fraud certainly seems to be within the purview of the US bankruptcy courts, with a weirdness quotient so high that it’s off the scale since the company that the Brewers declared to be bankrupt — SSG LLC — never existed in the first place and consequently could never have employed or dismissed anybody, never ran any shops and never owned any stock…

The reality emerging seems to be that the ENC Shop Management Company along with the Durham Cathederal [sic] Shop Management Company and the Chichester Shop Management Company are (or were: checking this evening I note that Companies House have ENC listed with the name ‘Sue Dawson’ and Chichester with the name ‘Bradley Smith’) all fronts for the Brewers which appear to have been set up for the specific purpose of transferring the assets of the supposedly bankrupt SSG in a way that would allow the Brewers — if the plan had worked — to simply sell the stock and… and… and do what with the proceeds? Pay their workers? Pay their suppliers?

In which case, why not simply talk to your suppliers and request extended credit? Who does own the stock? Does it still belong to the suppliers? Or have Mark and Philip Brewer assumed ownership of it themselves, either personally or under the auspices of these somewhat dubious companies, despite apparently not paying for it? At what point does stock that hasn’t been paid for become stolen property? Are we now looking at a scenario in which the remaining shops are dealing in stolen property? Is it time to call the police?

Of course, I could be wrong: it could simply be a case of total incompetence; but I do think the time has come for these questions to be raised publicly and considered seriously. Somebody, please, enlighten me; and as I said about Third Space Books: buyer beware.

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15 responses to “Quest for Enlightenment

  1. Those pictures of Exeter tell a story… There’s so much confusion its difficult to be certain about anything really.

  2. When this sorry saga is over, we might find that Exeter was one of the defining moments in the demise of not just the bookshops but of SSG. The original staff left en masse and Mark Brewer was furious. He swore that he would keep that shop open. Phill Brewer was told to go there and keep the shop open. Poor Phil Brewer – he didn’t even know how to operate the till. It became “one man and his shop” according to Ruth Gledhill.

    A little bit down the line the shop was closed. What “amuses” me is that Phil Brewer forgot that he had closed this shop where he learnt how to use the till. He wanted to know from one of his workers (worker has been sacked for signing a petition) why the shop was closed. He was told that the shop was closed because he sacked the workers. So the shop was re-opened with new agency workers. Those workers have not been fired by the Brewers – the agency was told that the shop was to be closed. Clean and easy way to deal with agency workers. Makes my blood boil.

    As for the other questions about stock – all we can do is keep track so that when the Brewers file for bankruptcy in the UK we might be of some help. Why am I blogging here instead of on my own blog – because I’m upset about what has happened at Exeter and I want those agency workers to know that there are many who care about them. I hope that they took Neil’s advice and looked up this blog.

  3. Well, a week away at Swanwick (first clergy conference I’ve been to purely in my own right, without a bookstall to run – very odd feeling), which has been a time of blessing with no internet access. And I come home to, what? Prelminary tribunal hearings that seem positive but only one small step; Mark Brewer admitting to minor misdemeanours but not the substantive claims against him by Randy Williams and NO article on Radio 4. What happened there? Many clergy I talked to over the week expressed their deep sorrow at all that had happened and were still sad that what they perceived to be the strengths that SPCK Bookshops gave to the trade are now missing.

  4. Richard, Rosie on radio 4 has a whole stack of information to sift through. Be patient.

  5. Drat, knew we should have had an SPCK meeting in Swanwick. Which one were you Richard?

  6. I have just managed to look at Neils photos, how sad ,does anyone know what happened to the stock .

  7. Aequitas, the stock went to York.

  8. i don’t envy the sunday programme producer having to put all the info together…

  9. Thankyou Asingleblog, the moral of the story has to be ( is it paid for!)

  10. Aequitas, the stock has not been paid for. Ask the suppliers where their stock has gone.

  11. Concerning the Sunday programme – I got an email (which I then forgot to forward) from Radio 4 telling me that they felt they did not have enough time to get the article together for this week, especially in the light of the tribunials and them trying to get hold of Randy Williams. They feel an interview with Mr Williams is important so delays in the article could be due to not getting hold of him in Houston. I will try and keep people up to date on what is happening.

  12. David K – I nearly got on the soapbox at Swanwick to rant about the whole SSG/SPCK debacle. You would have picked me out by the name badge and the flowery shirts.

    Asingleblog & Phelim, thanks for the updates re: Radio 4.

  13. I presume they have found A buyer for the Exeter shop.
    Is there any way that the money from the sale can be used to pay the staff and suppliers and not moved overseas into one of the Brewers bank accounts

  14. Pingback: Supporting Gaza « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

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