heristoreI remember it as a confusing place. In the olden days one was perhaps less liable to chafe under the restrictions placed on customers. We were British, with stiff upper lips, and didn’t appear think that we had any right to convenience (indeed in post-war Britain, convenience might have been a dirty word). It was immense, a warren of small rooms, with the books mostly arranged by publisher. Martyn Ould of The Old School Press, writing on the SHARP listserv, describes the process of making a purchase in those days: “You would select your book from the publisher’s rack (you had previously researched that), find an assistant, present the book to them, and be given a chit. You then hunted out the cash desk on the top floor and joined the queue – possibly the cashier was out to lunch. Credit cards not allowed of course, and you had probably forgotten to carry your cheque book. Start again the next day. If you had an acceptable means to pay, your chit was receipted by the cashier on the other side of the tiny window, and you went back to the department concerned, and hunted out an assistant who looked for the book you had bought.”

From the same source, Nicholas Weir-Williams recalls “My first day in publishing, the sales manager took me to Foyles. He had to go in person every Monday. They wouldn’t mail orders – the orders were in a pigeonhole by publisher. The books also were displayed by publisher not by subject. The rep was expected to do a physical stock count once a week and recommend the necessary order. It was quite a performance.” The trade, especially in London, used to be like this. 

Foyles opened a new store on 7 June, just along Charing Cross Road from the old one. They went to some lengths to consult people in the book trade, and customers, on what features their new store should include. Here’s their own history of the business. Publishing Perspectives gives 107 reasons to love the place.