London’s independent shops under threat:soaring property values and looming rates hike threaten small businesses across the capital

Old family businesses and independent stores on the high street face closure as business rates hike kicks in from April...

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Through the window of the shop his great-grandfather founded in 1870, Paul Gardner has a front-row view of the new face of Spitalfields: Costa Coffee, Ted Baker and Urban Outfitters are ranked opposite.

Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen is thought to be Commercial Street’s oldest family business and Paul is the fourth Gardner to run the shop, which sells bags and packaging.

Gardners’ survived two World Wars and numerous recessions as Spitalfields evolved from being the centre of England’s silk weaving industry to one of its top hip tourist attractions.

In the next few weeks, however, Paul will receive a brown envelope which could end the family tradition of shop-keeping. His business rates, already a hefty £8,500 a year, could double after a revaluation of shop premises across the UK.

The bills are expected to arrive in April and areas such as Spitalfields, where property values have soared in the last decade, will see the highest increases. Along with rising rent, it may well close down Gardners’.

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“I don’t think I’ll be able to cling on”: Paul Gardner faces a doubling of his business rates (SusannahIreland)

“I would like to see myself continuing until I’m 100 and then passing it on to my children, but the rates are going to be horrendous,” says Paul. “I don’t think I will be able to cling on. Half the businesses around here will go, I reckon.”

Author Jeanette Winterson, who owns Verde & Company café and deli in Brushfield Street, also in E1, agrees business rate rises will cause a “species wipeout” among independent London shops, including her own.

Already retail experts fear the worst. Mary Portas describes the shake-up as “short-term business thinking” which could double rates in parts of London. The New West End Company also opposes the new rating system.

But the Department for Communities and Local Government says the revaluation was necessary as current rates are based on outdated property values, and the new figures will be fairer.

A LONDON PROBLEM

Three quarters of UK businesses will not see increases and some could end up paying less, says the department. But the Government hasn’t calculated the impact on London specifically.

A spokesman says that for the first year, increases are capped at five per cent to protect small businesses, and adds that councils could apply for funding to offer rebates to small shops.

Londoners prize the character and contribution to community of independent shops — and their owners who care, chat and take part — far above chain stores. A string of owner-occupied, colourful, friendly shops can drive up house prices, and their importance cannot be overestimated.

James Hyman, partner and head of residential agency at Cluttons, says: “These shop owners create an area. They drive interest, they make an area a destination, then somewhere to live.”

Key examples include Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Grove, Borough and Bermondsey, where property values have been transformed on the back of the small businesses which made their names.

When an area’s stock rises, though, it comes back to bite them, as major chains move in. Hyman says: “Northcote Road used to be full of quirky little shops that have been driven out of the street, which is now full of Cath Kidstons and Petit Bateaus. It is a great loss to the community when the little man goes.”

VINTAGE VINYL MECCA FACES THE MUSIC

The prospects of higher business rates and a rent increase have pushed shopkeeper Jason Gore into a life-changing decision.

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Facing closure: Lucky Seven record shop in Stoke Newington Church Street (Susannah Ireland)

The founder of Lucky Seven in Stoke Newington Church Street is selling up. His little gem of a shop is a mecca for people who can happily spend hours rummaging through stacks of vintage vinyl and old books, spurred on by the unpredictable possibilities offered up by its groaning shelves.

Lucky Seven opened its doors almost eight years ago. However, the street’s transformation in that time, from cute little road of vintage shops and neat cafés to full-fledged challenger to Islington’s urban village crown, might end up being Lucky Seven’s downfall.

This summer, Gore’s rent is set for review, which he fears can only mean an increase. He started out paying £16,000 a year, later increased to £23,000.

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Selling up: Jason Gore, the founder of Lucky Seven (SusannahIreland)

The shop is on the market, and Gore hopes to find someone to take it over. Either way, by August he will be gone from Church Street.

“A lot of the smaller vintage-style shops have already disappeared,” he says.

He feels it is deeply unfair that small outfits like his and Gardners’ are expected to pay the same business rates as major chains.


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