Silence, Secrecy and Subterfuge: Going in Search of A Shop in Britain

It has taken us a year of looking for premises for our brick-and-mortar Foodie Bugle Shop, and we still have not signed any rental lease or purchase deeds to a high street shop ~ who would have believed it would take this long?

If we had known then what we know now, we might have been much wiser. We would have known that the reason why nearly all of Britain’s high streets are covered with corporate chains {endless branches of Primark, Greggs, Tesco, Morrisons, Waterstones, Cath Kidston, Poundland, Boots, White Stuff, Fat Face, Joules, Burger King, Clarks, Costa Coffee, Cafe Nero, Specsavers….} as well as a trillion estate agents, is because rents plus rates on a busy street in southern provincial Britain cost anything up to £100 000 per annum {or £220 000 or more in purchase price} for a decent size shop with reliable footfall. A living cannot be made from a tiny shop in a quiet street. May the good Lord help you if you are looking near or in London, or need a really big, prime site shop~restaurant.

Then, on top, of course there are bills + staff wages + insurance + stock + shop fittings etc. So you need to make at least double that figure in turnover in your first year just to scrape by.

We would have known that if you are a family owned independent business without a proven track record estate agents, landlords and councils will not reply to your enquiries to see shops that have stood empty and boarded for years. They would rather the shops stay empty, waiting for a phone call from Greggs, Tesco, Morrisons, Primark….There is no overall vision for the streetscape, for its aesthetic, its variety and its purpose in a changing world.

Many landlords do not want a grocery shop in their building: we have been told that food is “dirty, there might be grease, there might be effluence”. But Tesco is acceptable.

We would have known that the world of retail is secret, silent and cliquey, so that existing tenants won’t talk about which shop might be vacant soon on their street or are vague about when they might be leaving. Landlords pretend to offer you their shop to gauge what its value might be, but as soon as you bid for it they “change” their mind.

Deals are done under the radar. You are used as a pawn to increase the bidding price on a coveted pitch, cast aside when you are no longer of use, then re-contacted to engage in a new bid. The retail land grab is lawless and mindless.

So we may need to widen the net a bit further, in search for that elusive part of Britain that still has a high street, maybe an empty farm shop, or open-minded landlords and residents that might welcome an old-fashioned, artisan grocery~provisions~supplies store.

We want to sell local food, employ locals and {unlike many companies} we pay taxes, have no debt and don’t do subterfuge. So while newspaper headlines crown Mary Portas “the single-handed saviour of Britain’s high street”, we’re on our own, still looking, baffled and confused

Onwards and upwards.

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