Sad times on Croydon’s high streets.
M.T. WALLETTE, our shopping correspondent, reports from South Norwood where two long-standing retailers fear they might be forced out of business… by their own council
Two much-loved high street shops, both in the Mayor of Croydon’s own ward of South Norwood, are on the brink of being forced out of business, the owners say because of the council’s new charges for using part of the pavement outside their stores.
One of the shops has been handed a licensing bill from the Labour-run council which has hiked their fees by 1,700 per cent in one year.
Yet meanwhile, just up the road, the same local authority, Croydon Council, is providing three other businesses with free retail premises for 12 months in its efforts to revive some of the more down-at-heel parts of the high street.
The people behind those new businesses on Portland Road can only dream of establishing outlets which survive 120 years, like Emertons the Ironmongers on Station Road has done.
Generations of south Londoners have grown up with Emertons, an old-school high street family-run store, with helpful and friendly staff, who can help you find all sorts of equipment and essentials for your home.
But after seeing off Zeppelins, the Great Depression of the 1920s, Hitler’s Blitz of London and the financial hardships of the bankers’ bail-out, now, sadly, Emertons is facing possibly the biggest threat to its commercial survival in the form of a stern demand for £1,500 from Croydon Council.
Locals will remember the display of goods outside their shop front – tin baths, brooms, potting compost, bamboo canes and other delights which made it proper DIY eye candy.
But jobsworths at the council’s licensing department in Fisher’s Folly have walloped a demand on the owners for the use of the pavement outside which has increased 15-fold in two years.
One customer in the shop yesterday was shocked by the news. “This is terrible,” they said. “What is Croydon Council doing for our local established businesses? And they have sent out this letter in the same month that they’re handing out a £3 million loan and goodness knows how much more public money to attract one new business to satisfy their gentrification agenda.”
South Norwood ward is represented by three Labour councillors, one of whom, Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, is the Mayor of Croydon this year.
Until 2014, Emertons was paying just £90 per year for its annual “street trading” licence for the use of a small area of pavement.
Last year, that was hiked to £900.
Yesterday Emertons received the latest letter confirming yet another eye-watering increase.
Since the fee was raised last year, Emertons have felt forced to remove the goods from the pavement, and say that as a result they have noticed a huge loss in passing trade.
The owner of the business, Sam Patel, told Inside Croydon, “We have contacted the council. We have tried to appeal against the licence fee. They ignore us.
“They say they support regeneration in the area, and yet they give no support to the existing businesses. We have no option but to wind the business up.”
Just up the road, Clock Tower Fruit and Veg, a business run by the Kadir family for 25 years on the corner of Station Road and the High Street, have had their £87 licence fee for displaying their produce increased also whacked up to £1,500.
They, too, feel they can no longer afford to trade any longer in the area when faced with such large charges from the council.
“What can we do?” said Wafa Kadir, the owner “We contacted the council, they told us we should keep our fruit and veg in the shop. Have you seen the size of the shop? It barely fits two people.
“We cannot continue to trade if we have to pay so much for the licence fee.”
Meanwhile, on Portland Road, the council is providing free shop space for three new traders: one to operate as an art gallery, one a gallery and coffee shop, the third a knitwear store.
The choice of shop operators was made in a competition staged over the summer where presentations were made to a panel which, it is understood, may have included Alison Butler, Labour’s deputy leader of the council who is supposed to be in charge of regeneration in the borough, and by Paul Scott, a councillor for nearby Woodside ward. As well as being the chair of the council’s planning committee, Scott is also a leading figure in the local residents’ group, People for Portland Road. He and Butler are also partners.
While having two art galleries in the area might fit Butler and Scott’s gentrifying agenda, not all residents are quite so convinced.
Butler and Scott might also be a tad embarrassed by the news that the shops, with their enthusiastic new owners all geared up for opening at the start of November, have been forced to postpone planned viewings and other trade-driving events because contractors working for the council cannot get the shops ready in time.
Let’s hope, for the new shop-owners’ sakes, they’re not forced to display their wares on the expensive pavement outside on the street as a consequence…
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