Heffers, currently the largest bookshop in the university town of Cambridge, was founded by William Heffer in 1876. It began at 104 Fitzroy Street, where its trade was primarily stationery rather than books. Heffer frequently sold his stock to academic clients, forging a substantial connection to the university which lasts to this day. Eventually the shop began to sell print too, notably bibles and academic texts, and the success of this foray encouraged Heffer to open a bookshop in Petty Cury in 1896. Heffer himself was known for his innovative flair and brazen business manner, to which much of his success is attributed. This was evident when, in the late nineteenth century, he introduced a 25 percent discount, breaking the capital city’s dominance of the textbook trade. Heffers was up against fierce rival booksellers, but its local charm did not impede its growth. It continued to expand, and in the twentieth century Heffers adopted the phrase ‘known all over the world’, owing to its trade with customers across the globe. The Heffers catalogue began with just 250 copies in 1898, but by 1909 that number had increased to 60,000 a year. In 1970 it left its Petty Cury location and moved to Trinity Street, where Bowes & Bowes was also famously located. Heffers and Bowes & Bowes were the dominant booksellers of Cambridge, and between them their buildings on Trinity Street comprised ‘as great a density of bookshops as Charing Cross Road’ (Ian Norrie, p. 188).
Heffers remained a family business, as seven of William’s nine children became directors, his grandsons worked for the company in the 1940s and his great-grandson worked for the company until he retired in 1999. This was also the year that Blackwells acquired Heffers.
Heffers has established itself as a firm favourite of locals and tourists alike, as well as university students and scholars. It has been something of a rite of passage for many new Cambridge undergraduates to purchase the books on their reading lists from Heffers bookshop, and it is this sense of tradition that has ensured it as a symbol of Cambridge itself.