Fresh concerns over future of Southwold High Street as new chains move in

06:34 15 August 2014

The former Blue Lighthouse in East Street.

The former Blue Lighthouse in East Street.

Fresh concerns were voiced this week for the future of Southwold’s independent traders after it emerged that two new chains are set to open stores in the town centre.

The children’s clothing shop Little Joule is moving into the former launderette in High Street while the fashion retailer Seasalt is taking over the old Blue Lighthouse restaurant in East Street.

They are the latest national companies to announce plans to open stores in Southwold – fuelling fears about increasing rents and the effect on hard-pressed locally-owned businesses.

It comes after Waterstone’s opened a store in the former tourist information office under the name the Southwold Bookshop last month and follows the closure of the long-established independent retailer Eco-Electrical after the rent more than doubled on its Market Place premises.

Town councillor Will Windell said the latest developments were disappointing because it meant there would be fewer locally-owned and independent shops in Southwold and would have the effect of forcing up businesses rents.

But the company behind it, Gentian Development Group (GDG), said it wanted to invest further in Southwold and was on the look-out for new properties to develop for national retailers.

Nick Ekins, managing director of Gentian, said: “We are still keen to buy more in Southwold.

“There are at least three national retailers who want stores in Southwold but it is hard to find the premises and we would like to get more.”

He added: “These are big people committing for a long time to Southwold with quite high rents.

“We are very pleased. We set out to create buildings to let to national retailers; that is what we do, and we have achieved it four times over.”

The properties GDG has bought and redeveloped in Southwold include the one let to WH Smith, which Gentian no longer owns – and the one taken over amid much controversy by Costa Coffee.

The influx of national chains to the town has been blamed for pushing up rents and forcing smaller retailers to close down or move elsewhere.

However, Mr Ekins has disputed claims that Gentian was behind the problems in Southwold.

He said: “I think it is the market. It is also a question of the quality of retailing. If there is a choice between a national chain and an excellent independent retailer I know what I would do.

“If you have got small towns like Woodbridge with fantastic coffee shops like Honey and Harvey, they can compete against Neros and Costa Coffee.”

He added: “We have created shops that suit national retailers. National retailers only operate in certain

size units. The rents we get are market levels. We can’t change the world and make people pay a higher price than things are worth.”

Mr Ekins, 45, said the new retailers would create jobs for young people, many of whom would come from economically-deprived areas such as Lowestoft.

He added that his company had bought the properties from local people and had spent more than £1m with local builders and architects as part of the four developments.

Mr Windell said he was unhappy to hear about the arrival of two more chain stores in Southwold.

He said: “It is a disappointment for two reasons. It means less local independent shops and as more chains come in the more the rents go up. Financially for a small town it has a big impact.

“You have to remember that money spent in an independent shops goes round the town an average of seven times while money spent with big brands goes straight out.”

The town council owns at least nine commercial properties in Southwold, which it lets to independent traders at a reduced rate. Members are also currently working on a neighbourhood plan, which will have the power to influence local planning decisions.

Mr Windell said one of the things being considered was restricting the size of new shops to make them less attractive to national chains.

John Perkins, of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said the town did not need any more clothes shops and the society had long been warning that the arrival of national chains would push up rents.

He added: “Eco-Electrical closed because of a rent increase and we are proved right all the time. The chains go in and the little guys move out.

“The danger is Southwold is going to lose its character, which is the whole reason people come here.

“We risk losing tourists if we carry on like this and they are the lifeblood of the economy. Long term, the effect on Southwold will be negative.”

In the last year, Eco-Electrical, All Pets, Tilly’s Tearooms and Trinity’s café and restaurant have all closed and the town’s tourist information office has moved from its prominent High Street position to a side street because of rent increases.

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  • I totally agree T Doff. There are some very rude people here these days and their children are hideously badly behaved. We went to The Boardwalk for dinner - a nice meal spoiled by a table of around 15 children (parents sitting elsewhere) who shouted ,screamed, had sword fights with the cutlery, ran around and threw food. The parents sat there drinking their wine and discussing North London property prices while this mayhem continued. The town is very dirty too these days - down by the harbour is filthy - drink cans, food cartons, paper and even a dead kitten the other day. Sad to see Crown Electrical go - I have resorted to buying bulbs from Amazon - cheaper than a trip to Homebase. How many more shops do we need selling seaside theme clothes and nick nacks ? Prezzo, once rumoured to be coming to the old Blue Lighthouse would at least have been pleasant and useful as somewhere reasonably priced to eat. We can't stop progress and people have every right to get as much as they can for their property - but please can we have something useful for once !

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    Tuesday, August 19, 2014

  • @insider - I had to re-read your comment, just for a second I thought it said "staff trucked in from (economically deprived) Lowestoft" - which is apparently how Mr Ekins thinks it's all going to work. Quite interesting that Lowestoft is seen as a sort of South African township (an urban enclave of cheap labour) for upmarket Southwold!

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    point du jour

    Monday, August 18, 2014

  • I think it much preferable to have "stuff trucked in from Lowestoft" than like some of the premises there do and buy from Billingsgate.

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    Monday, August 18, 2014

  • Southworld High Street It's not the fault off the large chains off shops that push up the rents . Perhaps the people of southworld should see who the landlords are on them properties and ask them a few questions about keep pushing up the rents ? It all seems strange that most high streets in the country are losing shops every week , closing down or moving to a retail park on the outskirts of towns , And in Southworld they are now complaining about new shops opening up . What is the matter with them folk in Southworld don't they want any thing new in there little world , off over priced homes that locals don't ever have a chance off buying , Please look at the big picture not just your little town !

    Report this comment


    Friday, August 15, 2014

  • It's worth pointing out that Tilly's Tearooms is now Enzo's Pizzeria, and Trinity's is now the Le Roc cafe. Both are similar businesses to their predecessors, and neither, as far as I am able to ascertain, are major "chains". The Waveney District Council tourist information office could have been housed in the Town Hall (after the district office there to pay rent, tax bills etc. was removed - unlike Halesworth, for example), before it moved into what was Woodward's hardware shop and is now Waterstones new bookshop. No doubt the Town Hall might have been less expensive in rent, but of course, the Tourist office rent comes out of the pockets of Waveney council tax and rate payers.

    Report this comment

    T Doff

    Friday, August 15, 2014

  • Both sides of my family have lived, worked and owned businesses in Southwold for at least 200 years, and I myself have lived in and around the place on and off for more than 60 years. The place has always been changing; especially in the last 20 years or so as the "carpetbaggers" move in to both the shops and the housing. It is a complete fallacy that it was previously untouched by national chains. For example, Black Olive in the High Street was, not long ago, an outlet for Baxter's, a national butchery chain of the day. Other local shops were long ago converted to housing e.g. Mella Nicholls dress shop in Queen Street opposite Tesco, Spence the cobblers at the foot of Constitution Hill, and so forth. A little study of the website would make such changes plain, and inform comment. The main complaint I have about the place is that it is now filled with charity shops (a couple quite interesting at times); overpriced clothes shops selling things that neither I nor the younger members of my family wish to buy; and lots of cafes, restaurants etc., some pretty "average" to say the least. If all the "fresh local line-caught fish" touted in some of these establishments were that, rather than stuff trucked in from Lowestoft Fish Market and elsewhere, then Southwold would be a fishing port on a par with, say, Peterhead (turnover in fish sales upwards of £150 million!). I can't say I much care for the changes in many regards, but the Southwold my grandfather knew in the reign of Victoria was no more the town my father knew between the World Wars, and the place I grew up in during the 1950's and 60's was different again. It is pure rose-tinted mimsy and "Rip van Winkel-ism", mostly on the part of "furriners", to think that it will ever be the place it once was. I just wish that more of the people that come here now were like previous, mainly polite and pleasant, generations of visitors.

    Report this comment

    T Doff

    Friday, August 15, 2014

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