Council-owned quaint tea room in Sanderstead forced to close

Another day, another business closure in Croydon. And, not for the first time, it has proved to be the intransigence of bureaucrats at Croydon Council which has played a large part in the closure.

Closing down sale: the scene outside Priscilla’s on Limpsfield Road on Sunday

Priscilla’s Tea Room, tucked into a niche little building in Sanderstead Rec, cashed up its tills and pulled down the shutters for a final time on Sunday, unable to continue to trade into the harsh business headwinds that have been blowing against many smaller traders since 2020.

Since it opened in the summer of 2014, Priscilla’s, with its quaint and vintage feel, had embedded itself into the village-like Sanderstead community, placing itself at the heart of local charity fund-raising and any events staged on the Rec. The converted bus stop café on Limpsfield Road regularly attracted top ratings on online review sites.

But in an emotional message posted on social media, one of the owners outlined how the business could no longer continue in an unequal struggle.

“I have run out of time and money to make a deal with the banks, council and debts,” they wrote.

The owner admitted that the business had been under threat of closure since covid. “The decision has now been taken out of my hands,” they said.

“For the last two years I have been paying staff and not bills, as there hasn’t been enough income. This is no longer sustainable.” And they admitted that Priscilla’s “can no longer compete” with four other coffee shops on Sanderstead high street.

Quaint and niche: the vintage feel of Priscilla’s Tea Room in Sanderstead made it feel homely for many regular customers

Even the usually money-spinning Sanderstead Community Day (“that used to give the business some winter savings”) worked against Priscilla’s this year, the business making a loss after a coffee van parked up and cannibalised what business was to be had. They called it “the nail in the coffin”.

But the heartfelt message made it quite clear how dire the circumstances had become for the owners. “I am desperate… Staff have not been fully paid from last month yet… I am gutted to be in this situation.”

The owners operate a sister shop, and will be continuing to trade from the Cornerhouse in Hamsey Green.

Sunday’s final day of trading at Priscilla’s saw the owners selling off all their fixtures and fittings, and even offering to give away tables and chairs that are now surplus to requirements.

Everything must go: all fixtures and fittings were for sale on Sunday

And is so often the case with traders struggling to operate in a viable manner in Croydon, somewhere along the line the local council was involved in the problems.

The building where Priscilla’s operated was owned by the cash-strapped council.

“The building was placed up for sale by the council and my lease was up for renewal,” the owners wrote.

“I have worked endlessly over the last few months to find a solution but it is not possible. I needed to reduce the rent debt to the council in order to renew the lease, but I couldn’t find enough.

“I had an amazing customer who was ready to buy the building, but the council wouldn’t give us a price and wanted us to bid against the public. I feel it is unfair I have to bid against the public for my own building after 10 years of community work and investment into transforming the building and public toilet and turning it into something special.

“The situation has become impossible to fix and there are no more solutions so sadly we must close.”

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9 Responses to Council-owned quaint tea room in Sanderstead forced to close

  1. Michelle Perkins says:

    I think it unfair to blame the community day. The cafe can never cope with the people at the fair and therefore this could have been seen as support. Plus if bills not paid for 2 years, the community day sales didn’t help last year…..

    • No one has blamed the community day.

      As stated elsewhere, you seem to be investing rather more importance to events on a single day’s trading, the community day, in this report than is fair or reasonable. Some might think you are being a bit… touchy.

      Oh, and if you check our website comment rules, we do not allow anonymous comments. If you have something to say, then we usually expect you to put your name beside it.

  2. Liz Brereton says:

    A lot of small businesses and charities have closed due to Covid and the Economic Crisis. This is nothing to do with Croydon council debts. Its really hard to get funding for small businesses and Trustees have to be on the ball.

    • Businesses will have directors, rather than trustees.

      And this has everything to do with the council’s financial crisis, because the property is being sold as part of the disposals strategy implemented as a consequence of the bankruptcy.

  3. Colin Cooper says:

    As was once said ‘recollections may vary’! To clarify, I was part of the organizers of the Community Day event and Priscilla’s WERE given the opportunity to run the barbecue and bar, as in previous years. THIS is what provided their ‘buffer’ for the winter months. This offer was declined and as a consequence we had to make alternative arrangements to offer food and drink facilities for the public attending the day, though Priscilla’s kindly allowed mains electrical hook-ups for two of the vendors. The problems had been building for 2 years and the situation had become untenable and irrecoverable.

    • You seem to be investing rather more importance to events on a single day’s trading, the community day, in this report than is fair or reasonable. Some might think you are being a bit… touchy.

      They said that they had hoped the business generated on that day might have helped. But the account overall makes it clear that they had been struggling for some time, and that competition on the high street, banks, the council and bills made their position impossible.

      They called the community day “the nail in the coffin”.

      They didn’t say it was the coffin.

  4. Jad Adams says:

    Very sorry to lose Priscilla’s who have donated to homeless and otherwise vulnerable people via Nightwatch for many years. We will miss you.

  5. Bernard Winchester says:

    Priscilla’s were a valued part of the community in Sanderstead and their establishment had a charm which the big coffee shop chains could not match. I am sorry to see them go, and that the Council could not see a way to offer them more support, as they contributed to the district’s quality of life.

  6. Debra Pring says:

    Whilst I undertsand the point made about Croydon Council’s actions making the purchase of the premises impossible, what I feel is missing is some sort of context that selling-up of property to recoup loses is not only happening with other Councils, but also private business owners. Whilst a large part of the charm (and previous success) of the tearoom is that it is quaint, that also means that its capacity is limited. I guess that didn’t help.

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