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Never Judge A Waterstones By Its Storefront

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Southwold Books

Waterstones, the UK’s largest bookshop chain, is facing accusations that it acted deceptively after it opened three unbranded shops on High Streets around rural England.

The shops — Southwold Books in Suffolk, The Rye Bookshop in East Sussex and Harpenden Books in Hertfordshire — all feature quaint storefronts with a decidedly neighbourhood vibe, and not a whiff of Waterstones marketing. Critics cried foul and said that in a world of homogenous bookshops, Waterstones, with its estate of 275 stores, was attempting to portray itself as the little guy.

But CEO James Daunt told the BBC he just wanted the shops to have an “independent feel.”

He said all three of the shops in question were on small High Streets that did not have an independent bookstore.

"We're coming into quite sensitive High Streets, ones predominantly with independent retailers on them, and we wish to behave as they do," he said.

Southwold Books was launched as a quintessentially local bookshop in mid-2014, followed by The Rye Bookshop a year later, and Harpenden Books opened in April 2016.