Fighting back: Royal Arcade owners give free rents to retailers to kick-start city’s gem
PUBLISHED: 07:12 22 August 2020 | UPDATED: 07:59 22 August 2020
Owners of the Victorian landmark, insurance giant Legal and General, did not charge tenants at all from March to July, it has emerged.
Now, in an effort to get empty units occupied again, retailers are being offered rent deals to add to the current business rate relief because of coronavirus.
The Arcade, built in 1899, saw numerous shops and businesses pull out over 2019 including the biggest casualty, Jamie’s Italian, as well as interiors firm Berry’s & Grey and the English Chocolate Company.
It now has a new managing property agent in place, London-based Workman Ltd, and it is going after new business in the hope of getting the arcade fully occupied for Christmas.
The newest trader to sign up for a unit is Angela Ruthven, who owns Artisan Chocolates by Saffire, relocating into the Royal Arcade next month.
She said: “I was very happy with the figure they asked for, it’s a great location in the city centre and for me, the obvious next chapter. It wasn’t necessarily a discount on rent but I was happy with the deal.
“I’m hugely optimistic - just imagine how the Arcade will look all lit up for Christmas.”
Sonkai jewellers relocated from the Norwich Lanes into the Royal Arcade last December.
Sara Sweet, who runs the firm with partner Craig Snape, said they’d signed a 10-year lease and negotiated one year rent-free.
She said Legal & General had also given tenants free rent from March to July.
“There was a lot of anxiety about footfall, we were all quite worried and so they gave us March to June and then July free as well,” she said.
“I go from a standpoint of no expectations from the landlords so anything is a bonus.
“Not paying business rates is also a big help but there are still teething problems.”
Ms Sweet said there had been a water leak in the shop earlier this week, causing part of the ceiling to fall down.
“I just wanted to cry, but the new agents were hugely apologetic and helpful and overall I am really happy,” she said.
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“The gates were fixed so the Arcade was securely locked throughout lockdown and the chocolate shop coming means the Arcade, known for chocolate, will be really busy.”
Norwich BID, Business improvement District, together with Norwich City Council, has been working with the owners of the Arcade too because the venue is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city.
Martin Blackwell, head of operations, said: “The new managing agents do seem to have interesting ideas to develop and we are optimistic that their new approach will lead to some new occupancy.
“One of the longstanding issues has been that the Arcade, a beautiful building, has had high business rates, among the highest per square foot in the city, and now businesses can take advantage of not having to pay business rates until April.”
Stefan Gurney, executive director, added: “The managing agents are looking to animate the space and looking at different business models. The Royal Arcade has a uniqueness, conversations have led to the realism that it is a challenging environment and landlords are going to have to be flexible.”
Legal & General recently blamed the coronavirus pandemic for a 2pc fall in its first-half operating profit to £1.13 billion but paid an interim dividend for 2020, unlike many insurers.
Before coronavirus hit, it was criticised by some tenants for not budging on high rents causing many to leave.
Those included the Bedlinen Co and then later the English Chocolate Company, opened in the former Digby’s unit, only to close shortly afterwards.
The longest serving tenant, Langley’s toy store opened a second store in Chapelfield, sparking fears it too would vacate and the Arcade started looking less attractive as empty units were boarded up.
But despite possibly the biggest retail challenge of all, coronavirus, it is a different picture now as retailers including Tim Kinnaird’s Macarons & More and the long-established Stompers shoe shop unite to try and attract shoppers back to the high street.
Why we love the Royal Arcade
The little retail oasis was designed by famous architect George Skipper, described by Sir John Betjeman as being ‘to Norwich what Gaudi was to Barcelona’.
Skipper was influenced by the Art Nouveau trend of the time which saw Japanese themes and the peacock, seen in the Arcade’s architectural frieze, was a particular favourite, with stained glass and mosaics also used widely.
On May 24, 1899 city dignitaries celebrated the opening of its new, prestigious, purpose-built shopping arcade. Arcade shopping was very much in vogue and the building and its shops were considered very fashionable, exotic and continentally influenced.
It was even hailed as ‘a fragment from the Arabian Nights dropped into the heart of the old city.’
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