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.”