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Oxford bookseller Blackwell’s is acquired by Waterstones

Oxford bookseller Blackwell’s is acquired by Waterstones. Image: Blackwell’s Art & Poster Store on Oxford’s Broad Street
Oxford bookseller Blackwell’s is acquired by Waterstones. Image: Blackwell’s Art & Poster Shop on Oxford’s Broad Street

The family behind the 143-year-old Blackwell’s bookshops - which first started trading in Oxford - have sold the business to Waterstones.

The iconic academic and specialist bookseller trades online and from 18 stores, including its flagship shop in Oxford’s Broad Street.

It was reported last month that the family were in talks with potential buyers after scrapping plans to transfer the company’s ownership to its staff.

Waterstones, which runs 291 bookshops and bought family-owned bookseller Foyles in 2018, says it’s looking to secure Blackwell’s future and preserve academic bookselling in the UK.

Toby Blackwell, Blackwell’s outgoing owner and president, said: “After 143 years of family ownership, finding a new home for our business and our wonderful booksellers has been an extraordinary challenge.

“Waterstones have demonstrated in their acquisition of Foyles most recently that they understand the advantages and benefits of holding diverse iconic bookselling brands in their portfolio. I view them not just as a buyer of the business, but as the right buyer at the right time.

“This is a positive outcome for Waterstones, Blackwell’s and all our customers in the UK and abroad, who will still be able to enjoy the individual nature of what both brands offer.

Blackwell’s is up for sale for the first time in 143 years
The Blackwell’s flagship store on Oxford’s Broad Street.

“I would like to thank our Chairman and Board and all of our fantastic staff, past and present, for everything they’ve done to uphold the Blackwell’s name over the years. I wish everyone well with this new chapter.”

David Prescott, Blackwell’s CEO, said: “Blackwell’s is cherished by its customers for its brilliant booksellers and the unique position it holds in the Bookselling landscape. Waterstones’ acquisition will ensure that the future of Blackwell’s and its booksellers is secure.

“Waterstones have outlined their commitment to invest in our people, our shops and in our growing eCommerce operation. Their acquisition will ensure that Blackwell’s remains part of the Bookselling landscape for the long term.”

Benjamin Henry Blackwell opened his first bookshop on Broad Street in Oxford on New Year’s Day in 1879. His son Basil - later Sir Basil - joined the company in 1913, and the company first expanded outside Oxford in 1929, when it bought George’s in Bristol.

It expanded its Broad Street shop in 1938 and opened its Norrington Room in 1966. Built after tunnelling underneath the grounds of Trinity College, Oxford, and named after its then-president, Sir Arthur Norrington, it held the world record for the single largest room used to sell books.

Blackwell’s first went online in 1995. It bought Heffers in Cambridge in 1999 and Thins in Edinburgh in 2002.

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