The family running Blackwell’s, the UK’s largest independent bookseller, is reported to have put the business up for sale.

A deal would take Blackwell’s, which operates 18 shops and a website, out of family control for the first time in its 143-year history.

According to the Guardian, the chain said it was looking for an external investor after a plan to put the business into employee ownership fell through.

It said that goal "ultimately proved to be difficult, due in large part to the ongoing uncertainty on the high street caused by Covid-19".

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Blackwell’s, which was founded in Oxford and operates Heffers in Cambridge as well as flagship stores in London and Edinburgh, said underlying sales for the year to December 2021 rose 1.9%, a figure that suggests falling store sales and rising online trade.

With its main bookstore in Broad Street, Blackwell's also launched a bookshop at Westgate in 2017 and also operates a poster shop and music shop in Broad Street.

Oxford Mail:

Julian Blackwell, the group’s owner and president, told the Guardian: "I would have loved to have handed over the company to its staff, but I also accept that in order to grow and remain competitive in the future, it is time for new ownership, ideas and investment.

Oxford Mail:

Read more: Ten amazing facts about Blackwell's

"I have always stood for innovation and transformation in the constantly changing world of bookselling. I am delighted to have supported, and now see, Blackwell’s become a significant player in online bookselling."

Potential buyers could include Waterstones, which is owned by the aggressive New York hedge fund Elliott Advisors.

It bought up rival independent Foyles in 2018 and previously took over smaller booksellers Dillons, Hatchards and Ottakar’s.

The Broad Street store began trading in 1879.

Blackwell's was the first to publish JRR Tolkien - before he became famous for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the bookseller published children's poem Goblin's Feet.

Oxford Mail:

Blackwell's in Broad Street is one of the largest bookshops in the world - in its basement alone, The Norrington Room, it has 3.5km of bookshelves.

Some booksellers have gone on to become well-known writers themselves including children's murder mystery writer Robin Stevens.

Over the years the bookshop has hosted many famous writers and well-known figures, from Oxford's own Sir Roger Bannister to John Lydon and Muhammad Ali.

David Prescott, the chief executive of Blackwell’s, said of the potential sale: "The sale of Blackwell’s represents a genuinely unique and exciting opportunity for any potential buyer to own a much loved and trusted bookselling brand.

"The business has been quietly and successfully transitioning itself in recent years to establish a substantial global online presence alongside a core portfolio of iconic shops.

"We hope that a new owner and investment will help us to secure a long-term future for Blackwell’s and its booksellers for many years to come.”

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