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Family-owned West End Lane bookshop still giving Amazon a run for its money after 20 years

11:51 30 April 2014

West End Lane Books staff Saskia Van Emden, Ghasson Fergiani (owner), Danny Van Emden and Jonathan Arkless celebrate the shop's 20th birthday. Picture: Nigel Sutton

West End Lane Books staff Saskia Van Emden, Ghasson Fergiani (owner), Danny Van Emden and Jonathan Arkless celebrate the shop's 20th birthday. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

A family-owned bookshop that launched in the same year as rival US book giant Amazon has defied its Kindle-selling rival by celebrating its 20th birthday.

West End Lane Books, West Hampstead, which opened in 1994, was packed with regular customers, neighbouring business owners and book publishers to celebrate the landmark anniversary last Thursday evening.

About 60 people turned up to toast the independent bookshop, a turnout that staff said bore testimony to the “ongoing commitment the West Hampstead community has to its high street”.

Danny Van Emden, who has worked at the shop for the past five years, said: “It’s such a significant milestone for us and is a real achievement for the shop. This is especially true given the market we operate in, which is harder and tighter than ever. But I think we’re better placed than many of our medium-sized counterparts.

“We’re an independent shop that’s small enough to know our customers really well and to have control over what we sell – that’s why I think we’ve been supported in the community and lasted so long.”

The shop has managed to survive while many other bookshops across the country struggle.

The number of independent bookshops on British high streets has declined by a third over the last nine years, falling below 1,000 at the start of this year.

West End Lane’s sister store, England’s Lane Books, in Belsize Park, was forced to close in 2012. Staff say the increasing popularity of online shopping as well as the arrival of electronic book readers, like the Amazon Kindle, has changed the way people shop for their books.

“Amazon and Kindles have taken massive bites out of our business,” said Ms Van Emden. “But I think it’s changing.

“People are starting to realise that if they always buy their products online, there won’t be a high street anymore.

“West Hampstead is such a great community to be a part of and we’ve become a bit like what a post office used to be. People come in here not just to buy or browse books but also to have a chat – that’s something an online shop like Amazon can’t offer.”

West End Lane Books’ birthday comes just months before online giant Amazon.com celebrates its own 20th birthday.

The company started out as a US bookselling website but has now become a global online superstore.

While retaining its traditional shop front in the high street, West End Lane Books has also embraced the possibilities of online.

Its Twitter account has more than 3,500 followers, allowing them to promote newly-released books and engage with their community.

It has also allowed the shop to contact notable authors on Twitter to organise book readings and events.

Asked about whether they thought the shop could last another 20 years, staff were resilient in their response.

“If anything threatens this shop I’ll chain myself to the railings,” said Ms Van Emden.

“The bookshop is so important to West Hampstead – and I think the community agrees.”

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