A Southwold business owner says locals should use the town’s independent stores more often or lose them for good. James Scott, who runs the Prandium cafe in High Street, said sky-high rents are squeezing businesses and they should get more support.
Following a plea by Wells of Southwold to ‘Buy local, or bye bye local’, Mr Scott said: “Running an independent shop in Southwold is extremely hard. I have run Prandium for nearly two years and see very few local faces.
“The East Coast Hospice charity shop next door to me is now up for rent because they are moving up the High Street. The rental of that property, undecorated and untouched, is £2,500 a month. Day visitors don’t always understand that overheads are too high and think that local shops are ripping them off. It is about time that the government looked at this with new eyes.
“The government should encourage landlords to give lower rents to small business owners in return for good tax breaks. This would level the playing field against the big corporates and also encourage landlords to provide reasonably priced spaces for independents, rather than greedy chains who often avoid paying taxes.
“Quite often people say to me that the council should lower the rents. The council do not set the rents; they set the rateable value – another expense, together with utilities.
“Rateable values have gone through the roof because housing in Southwold is so expensive. With such costly rents, it is blatantly apparent why only the big corporate chains can afford to take on properties in Southwold.
“Many local people choose to ignore this fact and complain that the High Street is becoming like any other plastic high street.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, yes I know there is such and such on the high street, but I can get it cheaper in Lowestoft or online’.
“One thing you can’t get online is personal and intimate service as provided by truly local shops. Supporting local is not about putting out tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram posts with hashtags saying #supportlocal #shoplocal #buysmall #lovelittle.
“The key to supporting local is using the independent shops that you have on your High Street.
“Customers need to share around their few pounds spend in the whole variety of shops. Why? Because if you don’t you will lose those shops and chains will replace them. Those chains will eventually, through the power they have, squeeze out the remaining independents.
“Then you will be left with a desolate, faceless, chain-only High Street. Every single small shop on the high street needs your money. Buy a cup of tea here, a greetings card there, a basket of fruit, a loaf of bread, a pound of mince, a pint of milk. You don’t have to be making large purchases. A steady flow of small purchases keeps the money coming in and keeps your High Street alive.
“I’m not local to Southwold, as in born here, but I do care about the state of Southwold High Street. Since I opened my shop, Prandium of Southwold the High Street has lost Jenvey, le Roc, Nutters and two holiday lettings agencies. There are currently several vacant retail units, which in itself shows how the high street is in decline.
“The local shops should pull together as well. There’s a lot of ‘hang onto my little inch no matter what’ attitude. I find it all a little sad.
“The balance of the high street is now at a tipping point and lots of things to blame. The population of Southwold is dwindling; local people are being forced to move away because they can’t afford the housing; the councils are cutting amenities and facilities.”