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2nd September 2014

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Gay's The Word bookshop hit by rent rocket

Gay's The Word

Thursday February 11, 2010

By CHARLOTTE CHAMBERS

JUST three years ago the country’s only gay bookshop was saved from closure by its many celebrity fans after Camden Council imposed a massive rent hike. It looked as if history was repeating itself this week, after a similar increase landed on the doormat of Gay’s The Word in Bloomsbury.

Jim MacSweeney, manager of the Marchmont Street shop that has been serving the literary needs of the lesbian, gay and transgender community for 31 years, admitted he was “appalled” by the Town Hall’s latest move.

“We had a letter from Camden and they have given us a 25 per cent rent increase,” he said. “I’m just appalled, given the current economic situation. Camden has no sense of reality. We’re pulling our hair out.”

Mr MacSweeney insisted that the business is much more than just a bookshop and says for years he has operated as something of an unpaid social ­worker – not only does the shop play host to meetings, but Mr MacSweeney considers many of his customers personal friends and will even go and visit them in hospital.

“I don’t know how much Camden spends on lesbian and gay groups and looking after older gay people, but we do more than that as a matter of course,” he said. “We’ve always been more than a bookshop – it’s the whole community coming in.”

The New Journal revealed last month how Marchmont Books in nearby ­Burton Street could close after its ­owner said bookshops were no longer ­profitable. The owner of Meghrab books, also in Burton Street, said he had been given a rent increase that he was planning to challenge. 

When Gay’s The Word faced almost certain closure three years ago, Mr MacSweeney and assistant manager Uli Lenart called on their celebrity clientele to help rescue them from financial ruin. 

The result was the novel idea of asking friends to sponsor their bookshelves  – among the names stencilled on the wall are Lord of the Rings actor Sir Ian McKellan and Tipping the Velvet author Sarah Waters. 

The leader of the council, Keith Moffit, and the deputy leader Andrew Marshall are known to support the bookshop. Cllr Marshall said: “It’s great that Gay’s the Word is there, but the problem is we deal with everyone evenly. I don’t think it can be right that just because Camden is your landlord you don’t have to pay commercial rents.”

A council spokeswoman added: “If the owner feels that the proposed increase is too high, they can provide evidence to the council to show this which will be taken into consideration. The council has a duty to let its commercial properties at market rent.”

Comments

Interesting, you don't see

Interesting, you don't see many shops like these around the country!
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?Closure

I haven't much money, and I don't live in London, but I'd hate to see this iconic bookshop closed.

I would be prepared to send a small donation to help you through this crisis. Please start a campaign. If all the people who use your shop send a few quid, that should cover things for another year, shouldn't it?

Failing that, sue the council for breaching our human rights by not allowing us enough bookshops that cater to our needs.

Good luck

Mammon should pay heed to the voice of users

I am very saddened, as a former Camden resident, and resident now in Greater London (Bromley), to read the comment of the Camden Council spokesperson that their "duty", in this matter, is to let commercial properties at market rent.

The nature of Marchmont Street, in Bloomsbury, reflects the diversity of the local population and could almost be considered a national treasure, in the range of services, all, as I recall, small concerns, there.

The duty of a local council is to provide services that reflect the need within their local community and London's only gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender bookshop (welcoming all) surely fits this remit?

I am a frequent (monthly) visitor to Gay's The Word. The only comparable store in the country is "News From Nowhere" in Liverpool's Berry Street. "News" - or knowledge - is key here - if you think you can download the information you can obtain by just dropping into one of these places online you're wrong! (And, of course, many people are still out of this particular "loop").

Apart from the "draw" to Marchmont Street that "Gay's The Word" offers the bibliophile homosexual (and I consider Paris' "Mots a la Bouche" a draw to Paris), I think that the Council's particular view of this community service should be taken in light of the "value added" in terms of meeting commitments to adult education, community participation and inclusiveness. Unfortunately, these factors are hidden from some.

It is true to say that Gay's The Word's doors are not closed to anyone who wants to come in for an enlightening browse or chat.

At a time of tight purses for everyone: business owners; councils and their users, we should not forget that small is sometimes beautiful - would we prefer to have a Starbucks, MacDonalds or similar, occupying this site and would that add anything to the qudos of the area or the well-being of its residents?

I would recommend every reisdent of Camden, who is in possession of their faculties and able to walk or otherwise move, to proceed to Gay's The Word to both see what is going on and to pledge their support for this regional - and national - treasure.

Ian Thompson
Bromley
BR1

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