Second-hand bookseller blames Oxfam for shop closure

Marc Harrison says charity benefits unfairly from reduced business rates, free stock and volunteer workers

A second-hand bookseller has accused Oxfam of benefiting from "unfair competition" to drive him out of business.

Marc Harrison, whose Ellwood Books shop in Salisbury, Wiltshire, closed on Saturday, said his takings halved by £2,000 a month when Oxfam opened a specialist store nearby 18 months ago.

Harrison, who used to work in the voluntary sector, said it was impossible to compete with Oxfam, which benefited from free stock, volunteer workers and an 80 per cent reduction in business rates for being a charity.

"Oxfam speaks about fair trade but it doesn't do it locally," he said. "It goes head-to-head with local book shops and destroys us. I don't mind competition but it's hardly fair competition. My stock alone cost £50,000 a year.

"I wouldn't say Oxfam was the only reason for my shop's demise – obviously the recession didn't help – but it certainly played a major part."

Harrison, whose shop opened four and a half years ago, is now selling books online.

His friend Victoria Green, who has worked in the voluntary sector for 12 years, said she was boycotting Oxfam's shops because it was damaging small local businesses.

"I feel uncomfortable about the unfair rates they get compared with small businesses," she said.

Suzy Smith, books project manager at Oxfam, said many factors, including the recession and increases in high street rent and rates, had contributed to changes in the second-hand book market.

She added: "While it is true that our shops get a reduction in rates on the high street, we pay the same as everyone else for rent, electricity, heating and so on, which are bigger costs than rates. The reduction applies to all charity shops, not just Oxfam shops, and was instigated by the Government to recognise the contributions of donors and volunteers to the causes they want to support, whether Oxfam or others."

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