Monthly Archives: February 2009

Poetic Justice for J Mark Brewer: Asset Stripper’s Assets Frozen

Phil Groom writes:

J Mark Brewer, the Texas attorney who deprived SPCK’s booksellers of their livelihoods, who drove one man to his death, who doesn’t pay his suppliers, who together with his brother Philip has been systematically shuffling stock from shop to shop until no one knows who owns what or which way’s up, who faked a bankruptcy filing in the USA courts in an attempt to evade his creditors and who sold a shop for half a million when he thought no one was looking, has had his assets frozen in the USA’s Stanford Financial fiasco.

No surprisingly, he’s desperate and hopping mad; and he’s made a formal complaint against the Securities and Exchange Commission (also available as pdf) and — oops. Tricky one there, isn’t it, Mark? Against “Unknown Agents of the S.E.C. and an Unknown Number of U.S. Marshals.”

If it weren’t for all the others caught up in the Stanford mess, it would be truly comical: J Mark Brewer, Texas Bully Boy who beats up British Booksellers v/s Big Guys and Unknown Opponents.

In many ways it’s a mirror image of the situation that he and his brother Philip W Brewer have created here in the UK: one moment we’re up against SSGCT, then it’s SSG LLC — which turned out to be a complete Brewer fabrication — then suddenly we’re facing multiple trading identities in the guise of ENC, Durham Shop Management, Chichester Shop Management and Third Space Books, which mysteriously seems to embrace them all but can’t be pinned down to a specific location; and no one knows who was employed by whom, let alone where their pension contributions went…

I’ll be taking a closer look at Mark’s list of complaints later and their parallels with the SPCK/SSG situation: it all looks eerily familiar; but for now, a couple of questions for him:



On Neighbours and Building Plans

Phil Groom writes:

This isn’t so much about the Brewers as for them; for Philip (Phil) W and Mildred B (Beth) Brewer in particular, and for their neighbours in Bountiful, Tucson, Arizona. There’s been a dispute running between Phil and Beth and their neighbours (pdf | html | Links broken? Try a Google Search for P21-06-033), running parallel to our own disputes with them here in the UK. It even blew up at around the same time, late 2006, all to do with the Brewers’ building plans and their neighbours’ concerns; and if you’ve been following asingleblog’s conversation with ‘Tucson Observer’ then you’ll know that the neighbours’ concerns have yet to be entirely allayed even though the Pima County Board of Supervisors’ Meeting (alternative link) apparently wanted to uphold the neighbours’ appeal:

Uphold Appeal 5/0

NOTES/ACTION: Uphold Appeal 5/0

Given the way that Phil Brewer has ridden roughshod over the concerns and interests of British booksellers, I guess it’s hardly surprising to find him doing the same with his neighbours back home. He seems to have been much politer in his correspondence with his neighbours, couching everything in religiosity and oozing with apparent concern, than he has been with people here; although we’ve seen the same pattern here in many ways: all sweetness and light when dealing with public media outlets such as the BBC, the Bookseller and Christian Marketplace; but utter contemptuousness and dictatorial obnoxiousness in his direct memos to staff.

His neighbours weren’t fooled for a moment, though, and saw straight through the sugar-coated language to the poison pill beneath: “We felt like Mr Brewer was being dishonest at the administrative hearing…” said one group; “I am extremely opposed to this idea on the basis of being used like a pawn for the Brewers financial gain.” wrote another neighbour.

But as I said at the beginning of this piece, this post isn’t so much about the Brewers as for them; because the Brewers’ dispute with their neighbours seems to have something in common with another dispute I’ve come across recently. A Christian organisation I know here in the UK — but which I’m not going to name — has some major building redevelopment plans underway; their neighbours have objected to those plans; and those objections have been upheld by the Planning Authority: planning permission has been denied.

How the organisation intends to respond has yet to be revealed; but a letter from one member of staff came my way which, I think, expresses the way Christians should respond to their neighbours. If you should read this, Mr Brewer, then know that this is for you, too: may you find your way out of your wilderness of obsession with personal financial gain to encounter God’s grace; may that grace find its way from your heart to unlock your wallet to pay those whose wages you have withheld; and may you learn to love your neighbours in truth and in deed rather than only in fine sounding words.

Names have been removed to preserve anonymity:

I’d heard that concerns had been raised by our neighbours and I think it’s not only right and proper that the Planning Committee have heard those concerns but even more important that we as a Christian community should hear them too.

My question, quite simply, is what is ultimately more important: [our] dreams of expansion or our relationship with our neighbours? In view of the neighbours’ concerns — whether we either as individuals or at an organisational level regard those concerns as valid or not — could it ever be right to press ahead and risk alienating our neighbours in this way? Jesus said that love of God and love of neighbour are the hinge upon which everything else hangs.

Would not an attempt to ride roughshod over our neighbours’ concerns — even if done via due process of law and planning procedures — be contrary to the Gospel? If [we are] to be a beacon of light in this area, if [we are] to be the Good News here in [this town], we must think very seriously indeed about where this leaves us.

Some, I suspect, will perceive the denial of planning permission as an attack of the devil. I suggest that it is nothing of the sort: is it not rather a clash of values — Gospel values over commercial values? [Are we] in danger of being driven by commercial values rather than Gospel values?

We are now in Lent: in Lent we are called to travel with Jesus into the wilderness, to fast and pray, to resist temptation, to listen to the voice of the Spirit. Is this development the voice of the Spirit driving [us] into the wilderness, so to speak, to take stock once again of where we are and how we move ahead?

Let’s listen to our neighbours and do everything possible to work with them, not alienate them; and if [our] dreams, like [our] Lord, are to be crucified as a result, let it be so for now. Resurrection must be in God’s time, not ours.

From Chester With Sympathy

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to our intrepid photographer (you know who you are) for these latest pictures from Chester:

Chester's Christian Bookshop, 25th Feb 2009 - trading as...

Chester's Christian Bookshop, 25th Feb 2009 - trading as...

... trading as... don't look too closely now...

... trading as... don't look too closely at those stickers now...

50% off, according to the sale notices; but would you pay as much as half-price for books in this condition? Personally I’d say even asking 50p each would be a bit much; but perhaps greetings cards are more reasonably priced?

"I said I needed a VAT receipt and this is what they gave me..."

"I said I needed a VAT receipt and this is what they gave me..."

The only other information on the receipt is a signature, which I’ve cropped off the bottom. I’m told that the staff were very apologetic and are evidently doing their best under the circumstances: no blame attaches to them; just plenty of sympathy needed…

Despite requests to ‘Head Office’ the tills have apparently been out of use since Trading Standards visited a few weeks ago — here’s a reminder of how things were Shopping in Chester in January:

Chester Till Receipt and Bag, January 2009

Chester Till Receipt and Bag, January 2009

Now, what’s this rumour I hear of a sudden bout of stocktaking in all the shops?

Sheffield Shop Stripped

SPCK 'Sign of The Pilgrim' still displayed at Sheffield, 13th Feb 2009

SPCK Sheffield RIP

Phil Groom writes:

And so it ends: SPCK Sheffield RIP. Excerpt from a private message received Monday 16th Feb:

… this morning, I noticed that the Sheffield bookshop doors were open and a large removal wagon parked outside. It would appear that the stock is being moved out… keeping an eye out for any rubbish which may be dumped just in case of any personal info being thrown out in black bags. This is a very sad end to a big part of the Christian community in Sheffield. Quite heartbreaking.

If anyone in the area managed to take any photos of the removals crew in action — or even just some before and after shots — please do get in touch: I’ll gladly post them. In the meantime, we’ll give the Atheist Bus Slogan Generator another spin:

The stock in the shops goes round and round, round and round...

The stock in the shops goes round and round, round and round...

Where will this stock end up, I wonder? Bradford? Newcastle? If there’s a sudden surge in stock levels at those shops, we’ll know where it came from. But has any of it been paid for? I’m sure my fears are unfounded: no doubt everything the Brewers are doing is above board and entirely legitimate. Christians would never trade in stolen property, would they?

“Quite heartbreaking”

Sheffield Remembered: Part 2

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to Mark Tiddy for these pictures of the abandoned Sheffield shop, taken from his report Sheffield SPCK/SSG: 1 Year On, posted this morning, Sunday February 15th 2009. Describing his visit on Friday 13th, Mark writes:

Walking up to the shop you see the shop sign (with a variety of letters missing) still containing the SPCK name, the door is closed with no sign of life and no sign of anyone having been anywhere near the shop in a while.

Former SPCK Bookshop, 13th Feb 2009

Former SPCK Bookshop, 13th Feb 2009

The window displays remain as they probably were when the staff were sacked by the Brewers and the only addition since my last visit is a scrawl of graffiti on a window and a sign promoting the CLC bookshop 5 minutes up the road.

SPCK Sheffield Window Display, 13th Feb 2009

SPCK Sheffield Window Display, 13th Feb 2009

Mark reminds us that this is about far more than neglected shops, however: Philip and Mark Brewer’s betrayal of SPCK’s trust — and with it, the trust of the entire Christian book trade — runs far deeper than this. It’s about people:

The staff tribunals cancelled last year don’t appear to have been rescheduled (that I can find) and the store, full of stock yet closed and unwelcoming stands as a reminder to the damage the Brewers have caused not just to the unpaid staff who were unfairly dismissed but also to all those across the country who no longer have access to Christian resources.

The tribunal cancellations Mark refers to were reported by Dave Walker, restored courtesy of Cease and Desist:

My understanding is that the other staff who were fired are members of Usdaw, and we can expect to hear more about those hearings in May, as reported in this month’s Christian Marketplace.

In the meantime, however, some questions: is the Pilgrim’s journey finally over in Sheffield? Who owns the stock in the shop? Has it been paid for? Who holds the keys?

At some point I guess we can expect the Brewers to attempt to gain access (remember Lincoln) and attempt to claim the stock for redistribution to other shops. If you live nearby, do keep a lookout, keep your camera handy, and please leave a comment or let us know privately if you spot any suspicious behaviour…

SPCK 'Sign of The Pilgrim' still displayed at Sheffield, 13th Feb 2009

Is the Pilgrim's journey finally over in Sheffield?

Sheffield Remembered: Part 1

Phil Groom writes:

Unfortunately I’m not in a position to take a trip to Sheffield to check up on what’s happening there myself, but if anyone from Sheffield is reading, we’d love to hear from you; and if you’ve taken any photos of the shop recently, even better.

I’ve been reminded that this month marks a full year since the Brewers unceremoniously dismissed the Sheffield shop staff by email. It’s not just a shop that we’re remembering: these are people whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered by their shabby treatment at the hands of the Brewers, workers whose pay remains outstanding despite J Mark Brewer walking away with £507,000 from the sale of the Exeter shop in September last year.

Are you proud of your record, Mr Brewer?

Here’s some of the history as we have it in the blogs and other reports:

SSG Press Release about Sheffield (pdf, 56kb)
SSG Press Release
(pdf, 56kb)
  • “Church of England launches campaign against Orthodox charity”
    Dave Walker, 4 Feb 2008 
    ‘So claims Mark Brewer, owner of the SSG (former SPCK) chain of bookshops in the title of an email containing the following press release…’
  • Further SPCK/SSG shop closures – staff sacked by email
    Dave Walker, 5 Feb 2008
    ‘… Today the staff at the SSG (former SPCK) shops in SheffieldLincoln and Norwich were sacked by e-mail and the shops are closed. Signs outside say that the shops are closed for a refit or somesuch.’
  • News From Christian Circles…(and squares!)
    Mark Tiddy’s Blog, 14 Feb 2008
    ‘… within the last two weeks numerous SPCK’s including Norwich, Sheffield and Canterbury have been closing…the staff in Norwich and Sheffield were sacked by e-mail after disagreeing to signing a new contract sent by the trust.’
  • SPCK Sheffield
    Mark Tiddy’s Blog, 16 Feb 2008
    ‘I have wandered into Sheffield and had a look at the SPCK, and lo and behold…it’s closed … however a sign on the door/window indicates that it will be opening again on the 18th feb, which is good because it shows hope for christian bookshops!’
  • Quick update on SPCK
    Mark Tiddy’s Blog, 18 Feb 2008
    ‘The SPCK in Sheffield remained closed this morning despite the sign on the door stating that it would re-open today…’
  • Christian chain mulls franchising
    The Bookseller, 22 Feb 2008
    ‘The beleaguered Christian chain has had a tumultuous time since Brewer and his brother Phil took control from SPCK in October 2006. Earlier this month, the Cambridge, Sheffield, Norwich and Lincoln branches closed for “rebranding and restocking”, while the Bristol, Exeter and Salisbury stores have been trading on reduced hours since the beginning of February. Cambridge has since begun trading again, and Brewer said that Lincoln and Sheffield would reopen this week.’
  • SPCK Updates and 2 Random Thoughts…
    Mark Tiddy’s Blog, 29 Feb 2008
    ‘Despite claiming that the Sheffield SPCK would re-open 2 weeks ago and nothing happening it seems SSG (new trust running spck) are making yet another promise…they claim this time that SPCK will re-open from tomorrow (1st March) with new opening hours…I wonder how it’ll work with no staff…’
  • Sheffield Shop
    SPCK Watch, 9 Aug 2008
    ‘Just a short note to let you know that the Brewers have been locked out of the Sheffield shop and that Phil Brewer is very angry with the landlords for changing the locks. Apparently rent has not been paid for quite some time.’

I’m sure there are other reports on Sheffield out there that I’ve missed: please use the comments to provide details of any you know of.

Meanwhile, to the Sheffield Survivors: We Salute You.

Salisbury Revisited

Shop With No Name, Salisbury, 10th Feb 2009

The Shop With No Name, Salisbury, 10th Feb 2009

Phil Groom writes:

Took a day trip to Salisbury on Tuesday. The sun was shining, shoppers galore out and about, but the Shop With No Name was closed. The notice on the door said Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but I can’t remember the exact hours.

Looking through the windows I wondered how much of the stock on display was in real terms stolen property from unpaid suppliers. Lots of cards and candles, a token Lent book in the window, a Valentine’s Day display table inside: someone’s on the ball there, I thought… 

Sale On Selected Items

Sale On Selected Items

I was pleased to see that the ‘Sale’ notice has been changed to one that doesn’t mention SPCK, and whoever changed it was clearly paying attention to detail: the SPCK name and logo have been obliterated from the sale stickers on the books. But nothing to say who the shop’s owners are, no contact info anywhere to seen.

Silent Witness

Silent Witness

I looked up, to the ram above the door: a silent witness to the wrongs done here. “He must know,” I thought, “and the tales he’d tell if he could talk…”

For now we see through a glass, darkly...

'For now we see through a glass, darkly...'

I pointed my camera through the window in the door, and wondered when the windows had last been cleaned.

Although “for now we see through a glass, darkly,” the day is coming when the light of truth will dawn. Brewer beware.

Fun on the Buses: Slogan Competition

Phil Groom writes:

It’s amazing what you see on the roads in London these days:

There probably won't be any bookshops - there certainly wasn't a bankruptcy

There probably won't be any bookshops - there certainly wasn't a bankruptcy

There probably won't be any bookshops if we leave them to the Brewers

There probably won't be any bookshops if we leave them to the Brewers

Courtesy of the Atheist Bus Slogan Generator:
can you come up with anything better? |

Tribunals Update in Christian Marketplace

Phil Groom writes:

Christian Marketplace Feb 2009

Christian Marketplace February 2009

A warm welcome to anyone who has arrived here after reading the latest report in Christian Marketplace mag:

SSG Tribunal date set for May

Ex-employees of the beleaguered SSG bookshop chain (formerly SPCK Bookshops) moved closer to getting their claims against their employer heard with the announcement of the date for a preliminary hearing in May (11-13), to be held in Bury St Edmunds.

Christine Peacock from shopworker’s union Usdaw, which is representing thirty one former staff at the Tribunal, said, “The preliminary hearing will decide who the employer was at the time.”

Read the full article >

I’m not sure that my post New to the SPCK/SSG Story, or just feeling lost? really “gives an indepth history of the story” as generously described by that  Christian Marketplace report, but it does provide some pointers that should help you find your way through the maze.

If you’re involved in the Christian book trade or are a church leader and you don’t receive your own copy of Christian Marketplace, head on over to the UKCBD Blog to find out how to pick up a FREE subscription: Keeping Up to Date, Getting Up to Speed.

Now, whatever is going on in Bountiful, Tucson?