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.
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.