One week after closing down, a new Foyles bookstore has opened on Charing Cross Road. The doors were opened just after noon on Saturday, at which point the queues to get in stretched past the doors of the old shop and partway round the block. Staff took a rest from the mammoth job of transferring books from one to the other, and turned instead to welcoming customers, giving out goodie bags (to the first 100 lucky visitors) and dishing out maps.
The new flagship store is the largest bookshop to be opened in the UK this century, a business model which flies in the face of all those who predicted the e-reader would kill off sales of the humble paperback. It's built inside the former St Martins School of Arts building, who vacated the area for Kings Cross a couple of summers ago, leaving room for Foyles to leapfrog down the road and take over.
The interior stretches across eight floors, with the cafe and an auditorium on the top two, and a comprehensive selection of books on the six below. Everything's arranged around an airy central atrium, with stairs wrapping around the edge to give access, and some very fast lifts to one side. It's probably best to imagine the structure as eight half-floors, interleaving to front and rear, and rammed full of books.
I wondered what they'd put at the front, and they went for Art, including stacks of trendy design books and a table of concrete, brutalism and architecture. The space at the foot of the atrium is currently given over to two tables of gift-wrapped books, one with ribbons, the other in crisp white paper imprinted with each book's opening line. A few well-presented trimmings, artfully packaged, and even the classics wend their way to the tills pronto.
Head downstairs for the children's department, and all those cookery and travel books you'll be getting for Christmas. Travel's over at the back, with a fully comprehensive selection, and was the source of my first "Would you like a bag with that?" in the new building. I got the sales staff to myself, which was nice, but half a minute later as I climbed the stairs I noticed they'd been besieged.
The adult fiction section, which filled the front of the ground floor in the previous store, is to be found on the first floor of the new (i.e. straight ahead, and up a bit). This department's essentially a ring-shaped balcony, with authors alphabetically on one side, then back round to the stairs via crime and science fiction. I was not alone in failing to resist the colourful display, and soon ended up back at the cashdesk with another purchase.
Up again to music, which remains one of Foyles' great strengths, be that books or CDs or drawers of sheet music. Somebody's positioned the score for John Cage's 4'33" in a prominent position by the till, presumably for a giggle, but I suspect it'll sell well. Meanwhile rest assured that specialist retailer Ray's Jazz survives into the new store, its assistant already besieged by trad and bebop devotees.
Next up, history and the sciences (with all the transport books at the back, if that's what floats your boat). The shelves here on Level 3 are densely packed and more of a warren, in case you worried New Foyles had lost all its character. There's more of an academic buzz amongst the clientèle, with each sub-department attracting its own enthusiasts, so a good place for browsers to bump into a like-minded soul.
The final floor of books is for languages and education, so the ideal place to find a Dutch reading book or Harry Potter in Latin. And then there will be a cafe on the floor above, complete with charming typewriter-key logo, but that's not opening until next week, so a team of workmen are currently busy sawing, cabling and installing to meet the deadline.
The new Foyles is indeed a fine place to browse, a very modern store but also with enough nooks and crannies to explore to make your visit a bit of an adventure. It's a very bold move for the business to have taken, as the industry continues to contract elsewhere, but the Day One experience suggests that an appreciative audience of bookbuyers will continue to visit, enjoy and return.