Foyles will tomorrow relocate to a ’21st century bookshop’ on London’s Charing Cross Road. Here are 15 things you might not know about Foyles.
A quirk of fate led to the beginnings of the world’s most famous bookseller, when in 1903 brothers Gilbert and William Foyle both failed their civil service exams and sold the books they had bought to swot up for the exams.
After a brief period using the kitchen in their family home as a stock room, their first store was on Cecil Court in London’s Covent Garden, an area that was to become synonymous with bookselling. Two years of expansion later, and the brothers moved into their now historic store at 135 Charing Cross Road.
The first assistant hired by the brothers left a lot to be desired – he ran away with the day’s takings on his first and last day in the job.
Not known for his modesty, when the brothers first relocated then expanded their store at 113-121 Charing Cross Road, William Foyle proclaimed the store the largest bookshop in the world and insisted on the fact being ratified in the Guiness Book of Records.
In 1929 the Foyle brothers turned their hands to publishing, a family trait that lives on with the present executive chairman Christopher Foyle, a keen writer and publisher.
The new store runs some 200,000 titles including 12 books on boat-building and 68 on naval history between 1793 and 1914. It will be able to hold up to 800,000 books at peak times.
During WWII the brothers filled sandbags with old books to protect their store from the Blitz, and lined the roof of the shop with copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
The shop also stocks a number of non-book items. The medical department sells a number of essential items for the medical student, including stethoscopes and a life-size human skeleton named Bez after the Happy Mondays star.
The new store has opened on buildings formerly occupied by the Central St Martin’s School of Art, which closed in 2011 and where the Sex Pistols performed their first ever gig in 1975.
A 17-year-old Christina Foyle – daughter of William – joined the business in 1928. A doyen of the 1920s literary scene and rare businesswoman of her era, Christina’s father wasn’t afraid of showing her the deep-end, sending her to Stalinist Russia to collect debts when she was just 21.
After a period of remarkable growth and prosperity under the brilliant and eccentric Christina, in the 1970s the Charing Cross store became known for cluttered, chaotic stock management systems that made the aisles something of a maze, prompting rivals Dillons to pen the quip, ‘Foyled again’ on their advertising material.
Christina Foyle’s nephew Christopher Foyle has sat as executive chairman of the business since the death of his aunt in 1999.
The Foyles online store stocks over 16.5 million titles and 350,000 e-books. Last year the retailer launched a UK-first initiative with publisher Harper Collins to bundle print books together with vouchers for the e-book version of the same title.
Foyles is taking a big step into the future with the launch of an app which allows shoppers to explore the new flagship store on the smartphone and locate books on an interactive map.
In March 2011, Foyles opened its first store outside London for 70 years, at Cabot Circus shopping centre in Bristol.
In pictures: Foyles unveils flagship bookshop 'for 21st century'
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15 fascinating facts about Foyles as it prepares to open its Charing Cross flagship