I was shocked to see this sign in the window of the Travel Bookshop last week. The Travel bookshop has been in Blenheim Crescent for 30 years. It’s one of the best known businesses in the area – both locally and internationally – a key part of the “Notting Hill” tourist-trail, since it was immortalised in the film as the place where Hugh Grant is working when he meets Julia Roberts. In fact the scene was not filmed in the Travel Bookshop, but in a ahop on Portobello next to Kingsland butcher’s which is apparently also in trouble. But Hugh was specifically working in a travel bookshop and the director, Richard Curtis lives locally, it is obviously based on the real thing. Even though it is the inspiration and not the actual building, tourists still can’t get enough of it. Even today, with the closed down sign in the door, and no books in the window, people were photographing each other outside.
There are lots of rumours as to what has happened. Apparently it has been for sale since May. One theory is that the owner, who apparently now lives in France, cannot interest his children in taking on the business and so has decided to cut his losses. Many suspect the rent rises which have plagued many small independent businesses over the last decade as greedy landlords try to cash in on the undiminishing popularity of the area, with spiralling and eventually fatal rent increases.
It’s not the only business to have closed over the Summer, we have lost a beautician’s and a dress shop on Kensington Park Road and a children’s clothes shop on Elgin Crescent. This is a cursory survey of only three short streets. I’m sure there are – and sadly will be – others.
But another theory I heard today was that it was the tourism itself that killed the bookshop. That the constant stream of visitors retracing the steps of Hugh and Julia never actually bought anything in the bookshop, they simply photographed each other in the doorway on their phones. At the same time – it has been suggested – the local long-term customers stopped coming as they disliked tripping over the people posing.
I have to say I don’t really buy this last part. I’ve been using the bookshop for years and it certainly didn’t stop me going in. But there may be something in the fact that the “Notting Hill film tourists” were not in any way contributing to the survival of the businesses they wished to add to their photo albums. I’m surprised, as I would have thought that popping in to buy something from this now world-famous bookstore would have provided a great souvenir.
A group of poets and writers have volunteered to work in the bookstore for free if a new owner can be found. So far there do not appear to be any takers.
But I hope that if anyone can be found to take the business on and it does reopen – then in future all visitors will at least pop in and buy a post card or greetings card to make sure that a valuable local asset – as well as a part of local and now international history – survives.