CLC Inverness bookshop on the move

From its original location in Castle Street, Inverness the CLC bookshop moved to Church Street. In March 2011 the shop again moved and returned to Castle Street, this time moving to occupy the former Wesley Owen/Living Oasis premises.
Phil Burnham, the National Director of CLC and Tommy Hunt supplied the following account to Phil Groom of the history, the developments along the way and the background to the recent change.

A bit of history

Tommy and Cynthia Hunt began CLC Inverness as a mobile ministry to the Highlands out of the CLC Aberdeen store.
Being in the area a long time that doesn’t give us more ‘right’ than anybody else to be here, only a greater responsibility before the Lord for advancing the Kingdom (eg Parable of the Talents, being good and faithful stewards, etc).
From a ‘shop’ in a front room in 1978, we moved in 1982 to some very small premises adjoining Castle Street Baptist Church. After a bit of hopping we eventually set up in Church Street. The shop was a bit bigger, but still quite a cramped 20′ x 20′, thus not allowing us to stock the range of books and resources that we would have liked.
The CLC shop in Church Street
CLC OldWhen we moved to this site in 1995 it was a reasonably busy secondary location, but over the years that has changed as the city has developed in other areas to the point that it is now a quiet backwater; as a result we are unable to adequately fulfil our mission statement.

Les and Esther Dowey took over from Tommy and Cynthia in 2005, maintaining our mobile outreach to Highland communities. Later circumstances made it difficult to advance from there. The Church of Scotland opened a bookshop down by the river, and some time after taking over the chain, Wesley Owen (WO) relocated to Castle Street, just round the corner from a very main shopping street.

Living Oasis[Ed note: Wesley Owen ceased trading in December 2009 and the Inverness shop was then taken over by a Christian organisation with the intention of trading as part of a Living Oasis (LO) chain of shops/cafes.]

Why relocate CLC to the former WO premises? Was it necessary?

Consequent to the above, we had been prayerfully and actively looking to relocate for more than 8 years but suitable premises had not been identified. In the spring of 2010 we took the decision that to move was imperative if we were serious about our mission statement and agents were appointed to dispose of our lease.

During this time we evaluated the available premises in Inverness and taking into consideration size, location and rent the Castle Street premises were by far the best ones for our purpose. These premises were up to let and the big signboard was declaring the fact to all and sundry.
It was not that we in any way wanted to remove Living Oasis from Inverness; as far as we knew they were planning to relocate elsewhere and if we had not taken an interest in leasing the premises anybody else could have done so. In this scenario, the result for LO would have been the same.

Had we been able to dispose of the Church Street lease we would have looked to move into Castle Street in the latter part of last year; the fact that we were unable to do so caused us to reconsider if moving was an option for us at all. Had we conveyed to LO last summer that we were thinking of taking over their available premises and had then backed out, that could have had negative repercussions on LO by perhaps causing them to reassess their position unnecessarily, and there could have been fellowship difficulties caused by something that may or may not happen. Hence we felt it best not to say anything until we were sure of our position re our own lease by securing a tenant.

It was only in the latter part of the year that we took the decision to ‘step out in faith’, trusting the Lord for our Church Street premises (whether someone will come forward to take on our lease or if we should continue to maintain a presence there) and seek to further our mission to the Church, to the wider community and to the people of the Highlands by having a larger and more accessible shop. Three volunteers have already come forward to help keep the Church Street store open, praise the Lord.

You are correct, Phil [Groom], that LO were on a one-month rolling lease and would not commit to anything longer; they did not consider the premises were suitable for the fulfilment of their vision for the city. However, they fit in well with our vision and better enable us to fulfil our mission statement.

So we began enquiring about the Terms and Conditions of the Castle Street lease, but nothing was certain. Though we had decided to say nothing to LO until we could see our way clear re the T&C of the lease, in actual fact LO were advised of our possible intentions while we were still at the enquiry stage. Ray George phoned me in January re our shared locations and it was only right to mention what we were considering, even though some aspects of the lease were still unconfirmed.

Consider the following:
* Anyone could take over the lease, provided the terms were met.

The owner wanted a longer lease (LO turned this down, perhaps more than once, trusting the economic downturn to give them security of tenure) and the big To Let sign means the place is available to any Tom, Dick or Harriet.

* Surely it is better to maintain a prominent Christian presence than lose one.

Imagine this: the LO site becomes a nail parlour or pasty shop and CLC still finds nowhere suitable and stays on a quiet back street. Is the Kingdom advanced? Aren’t we all in favour of the ‘church on the high street’?

* Closure = trade lost

So, the LO site becomes … whatever. Yes, we would have gained some trade, but many of those customers whose legs only take them along streets trodden by habit and who don’t buy online would even cease buying Christian resources altogether. As retailers we all know this, despite the mail-outs, the publicity, the bits put in church bulletins… it’s an uphill battle getting people to walk somewhere else. Online retailers would cultivate custom from the clicker clan, but is that what we want as high street retailers? Those Christian booksellers faced with the relatively low footfall caused by being just a few blocks too far away from will know this to be true: most trade would be lost forever.

Did we negotiate with LO?

No. The topic did come up once I’d informed Ray [head of Living Oasis] of our intentions while we were enquiring of the owner as to the terms of the lease. Yes, LO knew we were thinking of moving before notice was served. The basic reasons for the move are given above and the decision rests with the Trustees. LO did make two propositions, which I will not go into here; they were considered but not accepted by the Trustees.

We are more than prepared to consider partnership with LO if by so doing we each fulfil our mission and vision. From our side, the door for partnership with LO on a wider stage is open.

Those who know CLC will know that fellowship is one of our four core values and we don’t exactly have a reputation for upsetting the apple cart. Whatever others think of our actions, they were not taken without prayerful deliberation and due consideration from start to finish.

Ray has it on record that we are more than prepared to consider partnership with LO if by so doing we each fulfil our mission and vision. From our side, the door for partnership with LO on a wider stage is open.

And what about the LO Staff?

CLC has a fair number of employees now, but we are not intending to change our local staffing model in Inverness. Like most of our UK team, and including me, our Inverness staff are non-employed, ie they are supported in the ministry by interested and prayerful churches and friends (this support system may be news for some readers: contact me directly for more info). [Phil's contact details below - Ed]

Much to our surprise, LO handed in the keys to the property on Friday 4th February, well in advance of their notice period expiring.

That said, I understand that the manager of LO Inverness (name withheld by request) had a job lined up even before the owner of the property gave notice to quit and is now working locally elsewhere. Besides the questions that this might raise, it would perhaps explain the very quick closure of the bookshop, less than two weeks after a four-week notice was given. Ray had expressed alarm that we were giving LO such little forewarning prior to the formal notice being given, so the actual closure came as quite a surprise to us.

We are sorry that the two part-time ladies are without paid work at the present moment. What more can we say? [Names and other details removed by request - Ed]

The present situation

Les and Esther Dowey have recently begun attending the same church as one of those ladies. There has been a very positive meeting between them in the wake of recent events, with prayers and hugs included.

Much to our surprise, LO handed in the keys to the property on Friday 4th February, well in advance of their notice period expiring. Congratulations are in order for such a speedy process, and I’d be very amazed indeed if CLC would ever clear a shop so speedily.

The owner has put some books in the window and there are signs up to say that change is imminent, but for the moment we can be found in Church Street. We hope to get things up and running as soon as we can…

CLC new shopHaving begun in a shop adjoining the Castle Street Baptist Church, CLC is back on the same street some 30 years later. Most of life is a circle, after all. In what we sense to be the Lord’s direction for us, which is not the direction for LO, and though we risk being misunderstood and even misrepresented, when this particular opportunity came around (as opportunities do for all of us) we chose not to ignore it, but to accept it as from the Lord to move us forward and to grow the Kingdom. We trust that the local churches and Christians will support us in this move and we look forward to the challenge of meeting their varied needs for Christian resources.


Phil Burnham
CLC National Director
291 Abbeydale Road
0114 2812136
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Phil Burnham, 09/02/2011