If the old Foyles was a bookish uncle in a soup-stained cardigan, the new Foyles is a hip teenage cousin: ahead of the curve where apps and indie cinema are concerned, but sporting a pair of off-puttingly flash trainers. Foyles has always been one of those shops which trade partly on sentiment, with its labyrinthine layout, oddball-friendly café and loyal staff: Giles, its longest serving, has clocked up an impressive half-century on the payroll. News that Foyles was moving, and its much-loved café closing, was greeted with understandable dismay by Time Out readers. But standing in the vast new premises (just a couple of doors down, in the former Central Saint Martins HQ) it's easy to understand the decision.
Foyles CEO Sam Husain describes the new store as ‘a bookshop for the twenty-first century’, with 37,000 square feet of floorspace laid out immaculately by architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands around an impressive central atrium, and eight levels (four actual floors) packed with more than 200,000 books. Wherever you stand, you can see every part of the building, and the place is bathed in a gentle, contemplation-inducing glow. It’s light years away from the dusty nooks and crannies of the old building, and a bold visual statement of Foyles’s ambition and new image.
In the age of the e-reader and Amazon, punters need a good reason to visit a bookshop, and the new story has plenty. Books aside, the focus is on the social aspect of reading. A whole floor is dedicated to events, from readings by Michael Palin and Jarvis Cocker, to themed reading groups or literary tours. The swish new cafe is run by Leafi, the people behind the Whitechapel Gallery's smart bistro, so expect something slick rather than homely.
A capacious art space will be curated by Future city which kicks off with Turner Prize nominee and ex-Central Saint Martins student Mark Titchner. Otherwise, there are no real signs of the building’s former life, although one was uncovered during the redevelopment, in the form of ‘a big wall that had been given a going over by some art students’, according to the shop’s manager. This is in stark contrast to the old premises, where expansion work turned up disused rooms and even lifts that no one knew anything about.
Foyles veterans may find the new store a smidge anodyne, but any business making such a gutsy statement in favour of ink and paper, and bringing the printed word to life in such a sociable setting, deserves an exciting new chapter.
Branches Southbank Centre, Riverside, SE1 8XX (7440 3212); Waterloo Station, Lower Concourse, SE1 8SW (3206 2680); Westfield, W12 7GE (3206 2656); Westfield Stratford City, E20 1EJ (3206 2671).
Foyles is number 40 in our list of the 100 best shops in London.