Architects have hit out at ‘absurd’ plans from the RIBA to close regional bookshops in three cities just a month after opening a third store in London
It emerged this week that the institute’s retail operations in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester could vanish following a review into ‘commercial viability’ by bookshop owner RIBA Enterprises.
Former RIBA president Owen Luder slammed the move and said the institute had failed in its responsibility to regional members. He said: ‘One has to accept that the RIBA is not just a business, it’s a membership organisation.
‘Those regional bookshops provided a service in the regions and spread the name of the RIBA far and wide.’
In January the RIBA bought a new bookshop at the Building Centre in central London, establishing its third outlet in the capital, joining stores at Portland Place and Chelsea Harbour. A relaunch party will celebrate the acquisition later this month.
Steve Vant, director of Liverpool-based Union North said: ‘A lot of people depend on the Liverpool bookshop and its closure would be a terrific loss.’
Vant described the plans as ‘London-centric’.
A disappointed Robert Macdonald, emeritus president of the Liverpool Architectural Society, said closure of the bookshop contributed to his recent decision to give up his RIBA membership.
He said: ‘A good bookshop and gallery is more than just a bookshop, it is important from an educational perspective [too]…and as a local base.
‘I no longer find the RIBA value for money.’
A spokesperson for the RIBA said ‘physical bookshops’ were no longer the ‘first choice’ for architects seeking institutional support but confirmed that a decision on closure was yet to be taken. They added: ‘Unlike the buying trends affecting some of our regional bookshops, trading in our London bookshops remains strong.’
Ian Saunders, partner at Birmingham-based D5 Architects, explained: ‘There will be those among us provincial types who see this as a further retraction from the regions but it is probably more symptomatic of book retailing.’
Stephen Hodder, chairman of Hodder + Partners, and RIBA North West director Belinda Irlam-Mowbray have launched a campaign to save the Manchester bookshop, while plans for a RIBA HQ in Liverpool could incorporate a shop.
Ruth Reed, RIBA president explained: ‘This doesn’t mean we’re pulling out of the regions, it means we’re taking a 21st century view to how people want to use facilities.
‘People vote with their feet with bookshops [and] you can’t keep facilities because they’re a nice idea. We’re just changing the nature of what we provide.’
Proposals for internet cafes, events or exhibition spaces to replace the bookshops are on the table, claimed Reed.
Steven Cross, director of RIBA Bookshops & Publishing, added: ‘The growing trend for customers is to buy online. [However] opening a shop at the building centre makes perfect sense from a business point of view.’
The Manchester and Birmingham bookshops had both witnessed declining sales, claimed Cross. Workers at the Birmingham and Liverpool stores were ‘realigned’ to other posts while staff in Manchester accepted voluntary redundancy.
Cross confirmed that all three bookshops will cease trading on 21 April.