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Rent rise forces Southwold shop to close after 37 years

PUBLISHED: 06:57 18 July 2014

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.

A family-run business is moving out of Southwold after 37 years because it can no longer afford the rent on its town centre shop.

Eco Electrical Contractors was founded in 1977 by the late Reginald Crown at 1, Market Place under the name Crown Electrical.

The business changed its name eight years ago and is now run by Mr Crown’s son Melvin with his sister Monica. Their 81-year-old mother Doris also still works in the shop.

But the Crowns will be shutting up shop at the end of August after their rent more than doubled following a recent review.

Theirs is the latest in a growing number of independent town centre businesses to close in Southwold because of rising rents.

However John Miller, who owns the property with five other people, said the building had been let at below market rate for some time and the rent had been raised in accordance with advice from a professional valuer.

Mr Crown, 59, said he was very emotional about having to leave the town centre after so long and was still coming to terms with the situation, but he accepted that rents had increased in recent times.

He said: “They have been quite reasonable to us and it has been a long time since the last rent review. We aim to close at the end of August after 37 years. It is quite emotional.

“It doesn’t seem quite real at the moment. It is still sinking in.”

The electrical contracting arm of the business will continue to trade from a new base in Reydon. The location has yet to be confirmed but the firm’s phone number will remain the same.

The closure of the shop means Michael Bumstead, a full-time employee for 14 years, and Susan Dencham, who has worked part-time in the shop for eight years, will both lose their jobs.

Mr Crown added: “The retail business we can’t take anywhere. It is too expensive to rent anything in Southwold for us.

“We don’t sell huge things. It’s all small bits and pieces. There is not enough volume of sales to relate to the rent.”

Miss Crown added: “We are all very upset. We’ve been here a long time. I just want to thank our customers for all the support they have given us over the years.”

Southwold has always boasted a large number of independent and locally-owned shops.

However, 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, in recent years, a number of chain stores have moved in including Costa Coffee, WH Smith, clothing retailer Quba & Co, and Waterstones, which is opening its new store – the Southwold Bookshop – today.

John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said it was very concerned about the state of the High Street in Southwold and 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.

“All the old little businesses can no longer afford the high rents. This is exactly what we said would happen when the chains started moving in.”

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.

He said other ideas were also being looked at by society members.

Sallie Smith, a member of the My Southwold team, which was set up to support independent businesses and enhance the vitality of Southwold town centre, said Eco Electrical Contractors had always been there for its customers with friendly, personal help and advice.

“It’s a shame that we are losing such a valuable business in Southwold due to exorbitant rent increase,” she said.

The building at 1, Market Place is owned by a number of people including retired solicitor John Miller, another person who has not been named, and the four beneficiaries of the late Jack Margary’s estate.

Mr Miller said they were advised to increase the rent by a professional valuer.

“Mr Crown has been a very good tenant and we have no dispute with him,” said Mr Miller, “It is just unfortunate that the nature of his business doesn’t accord with the value of the premises.”

He added: “It is just raw economics. One Market Place is in a prominent position in Southwold. It is bound to be at the high end of rentals in Southwold, where prices are high anyway.

“We are told that the rent that we have been receiving for years is about a third of what we should be getting.”

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