Owner ‘rises to the challenge’ as businesses quit Boxpark

“Stop sort of complaining about your lot and get on with rising to the challenge, that’s my message to people,” businessman Roger Wade said recently.

“You can’t have the council going out trying to protect local businesses.”

Open all hours: Boozepark

Wade is the founder of Boxpark, the East Croydon-based venue which ahead of its first year of operation received a £3million loan from Croydon Council, plus £180,000 in public subsidy from the Town Hall. So the idea of Wade offering tough-love advice to other businesses which have not received a penny from Croydon Council may seem a little rich.

Especially so since, in the past couple of months, Wade’s Boozepark has seen around half a dozen of its food and drink tenants shut up shop and quit Croydon amid growing discontent at the management style and decisions of their landlords.

MUD, a fair dink ’em Australian brunch and coffee bar, closed down its Boxpark unit in the past week, to join an exodus of traders which includes Donde tapas bar (still operating in Honor Oak Park), The Potato Project (which has an outlet in Soho), Department of Coffee and Knot.When council-subsidised Boozepark opened in October 2016, they boasted of having “over 40” different outlets housed in their  jazzed-up disused shipping containers. By October 2017, according to a small circulation newspaper based in Guildford, there were 39 outlets.

There’s MUD in yer eye: the brunch joint quit Boozepark this week

On Boxpark’s own website tonight, they list just 34.

One Croydon-based restaurant was offered what was described as “favourable terms” to move into Boxpark but declined, deterred by the prospect of not breaking even on the arrangement for at least a year.

There have been complaints about heavy-handed security (Boxpark got rid of its original security firm earlier this year after “issues”) and a failure to secure a licence for events which saw an Eskimo Dance gig cancelled at short notice in October. Promoters Eskimo Dance, who had staged one of the first events at Boxpark Croydon, said that they had been “grossly let down”, though they are due to be back on New Year’s Eve (tickets: a handy £20, plus a booking fee).

For Boxpark traders, past and present, who we have contacted, big-number Christmas and New Year parties do little for their bottom line. The food outlets want to sell what is often premium-priced food (directors of Westfield have praised Boxpark for “getting Croydon ready for the 10 quid burger”). But that’s rarely what the audiences for Stormzy and Eskimo Dance gigs, which have been hailed as Boxpark’s big successes, are looking for.

In short, there is a disconnect between Boxpark as the all-year-round almost-open-air rave venue which makes for easy headlines, and the business model of many of its food retailing tenants, burdened with rents, rising business rates, and disappointing footfall.

For a daytime operation such as MUD, with its focus on brunch (their Tooting branch is currently recruiting for a chef on the basis that they would not have to work evenings), big events after 6pm provide them with little.

One business owner would only speak to Inside Croydon on grounds of anonymity. “I don’t want Roger from Boxpark coming round and telling me I have ruined his business,” they said, without even realising that last year Wade had tried, but failed, to intimidate Inside Croydon by threatening to sue this website.

Roger Wade, left, with one of Boozepark’s most loyal customers, council leader Tony Newman

One Arkell v Pressdram-style response later, and Wade’s lawyers have never been heard of since (though the site’s Editor’s family are eternally grateful to the many loyal readers who supported our #BoxparkBallsFund so generously).

The owner of the now ex-Boxpark business said that they had made the decision to leave Croydon not because of any rent rise but because of the disappointing number of people coming in to eat at their outlet. “Considering the number of people they have been attracting, it is already a very high rent,” they said.

“We were told there would be 3,000 visitors per day, which for 35 restaurants would be enough. But it was not that number, and it wasn’t growing steadily, either.”

Indeed, according to figures from Croydon councillor Mark Watson, the cabinet member for business, when Boxpark has staged an event, the average attendance is barely 300.

In an official response to a council question, Watson revealed that Croydon is continuing to do what Wade suggests that they shouldn’t be doing, and “trying to protect a local business”: the council has been partners to 10 events staged at Boozepark in a six-month period earlier this year.

Watson said, “In order to support their tenants Boxpark have delivered an extensive event and promotional programme to attract visitors. Between January and June 2017 Boxpark Croydon held 157 events (10 of these events were held in partnership with Croydon Council). These events featured 420 performers and were attended by 48,052 people.”

Do the math.

Watson is the council cabinet member who spent £1.2million on resurfacing Surrey Street and managed to halve the number of street stalls trading there. He describes Boxpark’s events as “offering a real draw for visitors”.

That’s not the view of the business owner who has decided to quit Croydon. They questioned the style and choice of events being staged in Boozepark, and the music played most days. “They play rap music all day long,” they said.

Despite extensive marketing, including ads at East Croydon Station and Selhurst Park Stadium, Boozepark has not been drawing in diners in sufficient numbers

“There’s nothing wrong with rap music, but it tends to attract younger customers. People who have money and want to spend it on eating out are not 18-year-olds.

“It’s good to have parties with lots of young people drinking, but they weren’t buying food.”

The ex-Boozepark trader also confirmed the growing discontent with Boxpark running its own business – BoxBar – in competition with its tenants.

As Inside Croydon has reported, Boxpark restricts its tenants to selling alcohol only up to 10.30pm most nights; BoxBar then has a monopoly on the late-night drinkers. And the company has applied to Croydon Council recently to get a late-night licence extension so that it can stay open until 1am – but only for its own BoxBar.

“It’s ridiculous having their own outlet there – they are in competition with their tenants,” the business owner said. “Many of the traders were not happy about this.”

Things must be getting twitchy at the Town Hall, though, because Watson says he “will be holding a surgery in Boxpark for occupiers to better understand their concerns and to identify what the council, partners and Boxpark themselves can do to ensure continues [sic] success”.

With the sort of rampant hypocrisy only Croydon’s Tories can muster, at Monday night’s council meeting some wannabe councillors were demanding that the Labour-run council – which forked out huge sums of money to bring Boxpark to East Croydon in the first place – should be doing more to help Wade’s business.

This, of course, goes against Wade’s own public statements on free markets and business. But it surely cannot be long before Boozepark is, in Wade’s own words, “rising to the challenge”.

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6 Responses to Owner ‘rises to the challenge’ as businesses quit Boxpark

  1. Once Councillor Watson has departed, we may see a return to real projects for real people rather than fantasy projects for a fantasist.

    No more silly street closures to achieve nothing more than street chaos and unusual public space (too many to list but just look at the High Street bit), no more gentrification of places that didn’t need it (see the Market), no more illogical one-way systems that provide preferential treatment to the residents of a single road (see Addiscombe), no more fanciful and doomed to failure Art Galleries Underground (you’ll enjoy that while you are looking for parking at the new Fairfield) and so on and so on.
    No more overambitious, ill-thought through and misplaced fashionista enterprises (see Boxpark). I think you get my drift?

  2. derekthrower says:

    Looks like a blast of cold air is blowing through the well ventilated Box Park. Well definitely for the next two nights at least.

  3. Boxpark really is a terribly thought out place, as illustrated by many of the points in the article.
    The point about the music is correct. The fairly loud rap stuff is certainly not to everyone’s taste. The music at least during the day should be far more easy listening. If it were then families for example would be more likely to turn up. For me the music just ruins it.
    As for the pricing then its madness, No way would many people go there every day for lunch its just too expensive.
    I even think the choice of venders seems a bit more show that quality. I imagine for example a good old fashioned sandwich shop would be very successful.
    No I don’t like it I’m afraid, and the fact that my council tax is paying for a lot of it does rather leave a sour taste.

    • I am not trying to defend Boxpark but one has to say that its no worse thought out than any of the myriad silly schemes launched by the Council in the past few years. Prety well all of them have been glitzy, glamorous sounding things, totally fashionable, all needing subsidy or special planning and none of them contributing to the standard and quality of life of ordinary Croydon citizens and none of them really sustainable for very long. I just hope the Fairfield renovation doesn’t turn out the same way.

  4. Lewis White says:

    With its reuse of ex sea-containers to provide shop units, Boxpark promised to be offering an innovative, eco-beneficial “pop-up” type shopping experience, but turned out to be a formulaic shopping mall or eaterie wolf in sheep’s clothing, stealing the clothes of genuine pop up (but let’s face it, normally high end) developments, which have been used to fill up empty temporary sites in trendy areas like the South Bank.

    Has it or will it do anything to stimulate greater footfall and spend in the pedestrianised high street heart of Croydon, North End and South End ? Not a lot.

    Has it done anything to speed up the redevelopment of the ex East Croydon Station goods yard. Probably not. But at least it fills a bit of the desolate gap between East Croydon Station and the town centre.

    Does it it add anything to the attractiveness of the new residential and office development now at long last taking shape on this long-derelict site? Probably yes, as the alternative was to keep the empty site of the old Warehouse theatre. But of course, if someone had had the savvy to keep this, the last remaining old building in this area, we might have had an interesting mix of old and new,….but that’s another story.

    Will Box Park ever repay the “loan” .made by the council to Box Park’s owners?
    (Readers of Inside Croydon will no doubt have their own answer to that one).

    In spite of all the above, I hate to see any legal business fail, so I wish the restaurants and owners success, as long as the council do get repaid the substantial loan made by the council, to the owners, to get BoxPark into Croydon.

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