As another Southwold independent shop closes, are high rents killing the high street?

Melvin Crown from Eco Electrical is faced with closing his business due to rent being doubled.  Melvin with his sister Monica Crown and staff member Michael Bumstead. Melvin Crown from Eco Electrical is faced with closing his business due to rent being doubled. Melvin with his sister Monica Crown and staff member Michael Bumstead.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
11:15 AM

As Southwold mourns the closure of another independent shop, KATHRYN BRADLEY discovers whether rising rents are killing of the high street.

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Southwold has always boasted a large number of independent and locally-owned shops and prides itself on the diversity of its High Street.

But in recent years, a number of independent shops have closed because of large rent increases, which some say has been driven by the arrival of chain stores in the town.

Eco-Electrical is the latest of those firms to close after 37 years trading in the town.

Melvin Crown will be shutting up shop at the end of August after the rent on the premises more than doubled following a review.

It follows the closure of a number other independent shops in recent months.

In the last year, 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.

Meanwhile, a number of chain stores have moved in including Costa Coffee, WH Smith, clothing retailers Quba & Co, Fat Face and Joules and Waterstones, which opened its new store – the Southwold Bookshop – in the former tourist office on Friday.

John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said it had set up a working group to look in to the issue.

He said: “It’s very sad but this is the collateral damage that occurs when chains move in. It racks up the rents and there is a feeding frenzy among landlords.”

Mr Perkins said the society’s working group had contacted Waveney District Council to request that it sought to restrict the size of extensions to existing shops to make them less attractive to chains, as they tended to prefer larger premises.

Southwold Town councillor Will Windell said the rapid rise in rents came after the arrival of property developer Gentian Development Group.

Mr Windell said: “Rents were quite stable until Gentian Development came in and started paying high prices for buildings and putting forward a high rent for them. From that point onward, everybody followed suit.”

Gentian has bought and redeveloped four properties in Southwold, including the buildings let to WH Smith, which Gentian no longer owns, and Costa Coffee.

It also owns 72 High Street and the former Blue Lighthouse restaurant.

Nick Ekins, managing director of Gentian Development Ltd, said the company was in the process of letting the remaining two properties to large national retailers and would be able to confirm the details in the coming days.

Mr Ekins said: “We live in a free country and we have bought properties because we saw an opportunity to make some money, which we have done. We have so far purchased four properties in the High Street for redevelopment.

“We have spent more than £1 million on local builders and architects and we are responding to a market place where retailers want to have shops in Southwold.

“The electrical shop is closing down but with the arrival of shops like Dixon, Curry’s and Comet, little shops are ceasing to exist. It is not just Gentian, it is a national thing.”

Mr Windell said the increase in chain stores had not been positive for Southwold and added that the loss of independent shops had meant a loss of vital services for local residents.

He said the town plan survey, which was completed last year, showed both residents and second home owners valued the individuality of the High Street and did not want to see independent traders replaced by national chains.

“Eco Electrical staff know local residents and if you ever go in there and say you have got a problem with a light switch they would say they could pop round in 20 minutes and have a look,” he said. “That wouldn’t happen with a major chain.

“That is what we will be losing – that care and that attention to customer service.”

The town council owns at least nine commercial properties in Southwold, which it lets to independent traders at a reduced rate.

Have you got a Southwold story? Email kathryn.bradley@archant.co.uk

14 comments

  • Southwold was once well known for the large number of locally owned shops. With the rapidly increasing number of national chains, Waterstones being the latest with a bookshop made to look like a local independent shop, the character of the town has changed. However the second home owners seem quite happy with the way things are going since they seem to make up the majority of the population these days.

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    Port Watcher

    Friday, July 25, 2014

  • Well we don't want these high street chains coming into our town.it will bring all the common people in.there will be coachloads of them with their ferrel children running about all over the place. Where will I be able to drink my champagne and eat my fois gras

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    dan

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • I think you are all missing the point-with one exception Chains and property Companies can only prosper with the collusion of those that sell the properties ! In some cases that represents non-indigenous PeopleCompanies, however they must have been sold said properties by local people, and these" locals" are only interested in furthering their own wealth creation and prosperity, so don't keep blaming it on the chains. There is an uposide, let Wetherspoons in and you will see what benefits it will bring. Beccles is a revitalised economic beacon, it has brought wealth to the town and CHEAPER prices. That is good for the locals-not the wealthy second "homers" who often bring their own food and drink when they visit their "place in the country"

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    alexis55

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • If Southwold actually had a real local population instead of a second home population then there might be enough locals to support local business.

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    expat

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • Let's hope we never see the sign 'Clone Town' appearing nearing Mights Bridge. Sadly this this is becoming the norm throughout this once great country of ours which was built largely on the back of local independent companies and businesses. As has been stated don't blame Mr Ekins, he is a business man and developer, no different to thousands of other developers. In the long term it is down to peoples choice. You either support the small local independent businesses many of whom have supported their communities for years or sadly the inevitable will happen. Hopefully there is still time to make a stand before it is too late.

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    Grey Fox

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • The trough of greed runneth over. Elkin and the like have no other desire than to keep feeding at the trough. No matter how damaging it is to the less fortunate who just want to survive.

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    stormy

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • I go to Southwold and to Holt for the interesting independent shops. If they are all replaced by boring faceless high street giants I wont go. I cant be the only one. A large part of the attraction of these towns is the lack of boring high street look alikes. Although, sadly, I have to admit an electrical shop was probably bound to close as they have done pretty much everywhere. Not many holiday makers go on holiday to Southwold to buy electrical goods.

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    alecto

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • “The electrical shop is closing down but with the arrival of shops like Dixon, Curry’s and Comet, little shops are ceasing to exist. It is not just Gentian, it is a national thing.” When was that interview conducted? Comet went bust in 2012 !!

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    LLCK

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • At least it`s possible to get a decent cup of coffee in Southwold now. Next up - beer. Perhaps Adman`s will sell out to Wetherspoon - when the price is right? Then there`ll be a choice of ale.

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    Mad Brewer

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • Who sold up to outsiders in the first place? Local people. Greed.

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    Mad Brewer

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • But as Mr Ekins says it is a free country. If locals and second homes used the independent shops more I am sure they would be profitable and not need to close.

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    Alan Black Fan

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • Local people cashed in on the high selling prices. Local greed has killed local business. Nothing new there.

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    Mad Brewer

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • This has very little to do with ‘rising’ rents, as the rent is set by the commercial market place and what businesses are prepared to pay within their business model. However, the killer for most businesses are the Business Rates, which are in effect an additional tax imposed by government, the local councils seeing very little of this money. The problem with this country is that taxation generally is simply too high – cut the money wasted on benefits, stop all spending on overseas aid and reduce the burden on both businesses and those of us that choose to work – then you will see the high streets start to recover.

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    Norfolk John

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  • It sounds like Nick Ekins, managing director of Gentian Development Ltd couldnt give a to*s about Southwold or its residents, only what he can make out of it. Typical developer.

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    "V"

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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