December 10, 2014

Old Foyles branch becomes laser tag venue


Laser tag in the heart of London

Laser tag in the heart of London, just watch out for the bookshelves.

In June Foyles Charing Cross moved from its iconic if charmingly labyrinthine building to the old Central St Martins Art School, which had undergone a custom redesign in order to house the bookstore. The new building has been a gigantic success, resulting in oohs and ahhs and dozens of features on the continued survival of bookshops and physical books.

Shortly after the new Foyles 107 Charing Cross Road opened, I interviewed the chief architect Alex Lifschutz. We discussed how the Foyles building was only one part of the renaissance of the Charing Cross Road area, which had been brought on by the construction of a central Crossrail station at the end of the road. Crossrail is one of the biggest transport and infrastructure constructions currently underway in Europe, and already in the Tottenham Court Road area the Astoria theatres have been demolished and restaurants and shops have been closing due to the subsequent rent hikes, and the changing face of the area.

Fancier, slicker operations have been opening up, as though Soho and Covent Garden have used the opportunity to expand out of their usual environs. While there are positive and negative aspects to these changes, I was generally feeling positive. The new Foyles 107 is a bright, handsome building on a road that needed a facelift. It would surely bring in similar enterprises.

Warning signs came about a month ago when I walked past the old Foyles site to see its interior had been hastily stripped to make way for a discount clothing warehouse. The original FOYLES sign had been adapted to read “O YES”. I couldn’t tell if this had been done on purpose. Even if you were being really hopeful, you could not have referred to this development as a pop-up shop.

This is the usual name given to quick-off-the-mark enterprises that spring up in empty retail units and take advantage of the cheap rents to launch a new store or restaurant. The Faber pop-up shop has been exemplary in this. But “O YES” was a pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap clothes warehouse, and nothing more. At some point afterwards, it started to sell tacky souvenirs.

Around this time, rumours circulated that Amazon might be planning their own pop-up shop in the space, a London equivalent of its New York City shop, which we reported on yesterday. To everyone’s relief, it seems these fears were unfounded, but I do believe this too, was some kind of bad omen. In the same way as seeing one magpie can bring you bad luck of any kind, so too just mentioning Amazon can lead to another, unimagined kind of horror.

On Monday that horror came in the shape of the announcement that the old Foyles site is to become the new central London home of Star Command, a laser tag venue. That O YES is becoming one giant O NO. The Evening Standard confirmed on Monday that Star Command’s hints on its Facebook page of “a brand new central London location!” referred to the old Foyles site. On its website, Star Command writes:

Sorry we’ve been away for a while but coming soon is a brand new, bigger and better Star Command in a fantastic new location between Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road!  We’re opening the doors on Monday 15th December so come along and check it out!

It then goes on to list the features of its unique laser quest experience, including “the latest technology to give you the most exciting gaming experience” and a “large arena allowing for groups of up to 25 players, ideal for birthday parties, stag and hen do’s, and exciting corporate events”. It doesn’t mention whether the venue would be suitable for publishing away-days or whether the Star Command arena will still be divided into Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Children’s and Cookery. Will there be extra points if you shoot someone in the one-time Military Books section?

Pushing aside any healthy comparisons between reading and gaming, and any dark contrasts between the pursuit of reading and brainless activities that take place at stag parties, it’s significant that Star Command used to be based in the Trocadero building in Piccadilly Circus. The Trocadero is at the heart of the ugliest and most brash part of Central London, existing only for tourists, and then only to sell them cheap souvenirs and short-lived entertainment. It is like being enmeshed in the womb of Times Square.

We must now wait to find out what this will mean for the future of Charing Cross Road. It stands poised between book arenas and gaming arenas, between the worthwhile and the gimmick.




Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.