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Maybe Going, Going and Gone: More Chains Close In Guildford Town Centre

Published on: 17 Jul, 2019
Updated on: 18 Jul, 2019

By Hugh Coakley

The cull of town centre chains continued this week with three chains either closing or in negotiations which could lead to closure.

Patisserie Valerie, the cake and coffee chain café in North Street, which survived an earlier round of closures at the beginning of the year, suddenly closed its doors, leaving only a sign in the window saying: “We are sorry to confirm that this patisserie has now permanently closed”.

Patisserie Valerie in North Street closed suddenly this week.

It was joined by LK Bennett, the upper-end women’s clothes chain in the High Street, announcing a “Closing Down Sale”.

Both chains had been in administration; Patisserie Valerie in January 2019 after an accounting scandal and LK Bennett in March 2019 blaming its collapse on “tough trading conditions” and “significant rent increases and business rate rises”.

LK Bennett announces a ‘Closing Down Sale’.

To add to the High Street woes, a prominent sign has appeared above the Guildford branch of Waterstones, the national bookstore chain, advertising “Flagship Shop TO LET”. The agent’s details state that the property will be available in August 2019.

“Waterstones ‘Flagship Shop To Let’ sign in Guildford High Street.”

On Wednesday, a shop spokesperson said: “We have been told by head office that it is nothing to worry about, it’s part of rent negotiations with the landlord.”

The Guildford Dragon NEWS contacted Waterstones head office to ask for comment but they have not responded.

In December 2018, a sign in the window of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill in North Street stated: “Closing Down subject to landlord negotiations.” That shop closed in June 2019.

Excerpt from the agents brochure for the 71-73 High Street which is currently leased to Waterstones, the bookseller. It shows the huge floor plan area.

GCW, the agents for the Waterstones Grade II-listed building describe it as in a “prime position on Guildford High Street adjacent to Marks & Spencer, GAP and Ernest Jones”.

The rent for the property was not disclosed. But with a rateable value of £530,000, a rule of thumb would suggest the rent would be at least £500,000 per year or even higher. The uniform business rate multiplier is set at 50.4p, so business rates alone are a whopping £267,120 per year.

George Musgrave, surveyor at Owen Shipp, the commercial property specialists, said: “It’s a worrying development for the town. The landlords are letting the property on a new lease which would indicate that they are expecting Waterstones to leave.”

Waterstones, with 283 branches and 3,000 employees, made profits of £16m in 2018. It was on the ropes in 2008 but, after a successful fightback to profit, was sold to the New York-based private equity firm, Elliott Management, last year.

GCW have not responded when asked to comment about the Guildford “To Let” sign.

The new lease terms continue to demand the rent will be “subject to 5-yearly upward only rent reviews”. This is despite the widely reported difficulties that high street retailers have been facing and in the light of the 25% to 50% successful rent reductions squeezed out of landlords by Arcadia recently.

George Musgrave added: “The ‘upward only’ clause has a devastating effect on the market. The system is pushing rents higher than is viable for retailers.”

Despite more shops closing, and with several in Guildford closed for a year or more, it would appear that landlords are still hopeful they will enjoy constant rent inflation on their retail property portfolios.

The shop in North Street has been empty since January 2018. It attracts business rates of £60k per year.


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Responses to Maybe Going, Going and Gone: More Chains Close In Guildford Town Centre

  1. David Smith Reply

    July 18, 2019 at 10:42 am

    I thought Hugh Coakley’s brief was ‘shop watch’ which was to provide commentary on new openings and existing independents that perhaps would benefit from some exposure.

    Instead, we have a series of one-sided depressing articles.

    It’s perfectly normal in lease negotiations to erect “To Let” boards to motivate parties. Perhaps Mr Coakley could include an element on openings – did he know the old Hummingbird Bakery cafe was under offer or that a restaurant chain recently had planning permission refused to convert the former Maplin unit? Does he know who will be occupying the ground floor of the newly created 255 High Street Has he contacted Queensbury Real Estate to see what the latest is in regards to the empty units at Tunsgate?

    I think he’s missing a trick if not – those are the kind of things readers want to hear about not a round-up of shops that may or may not be vacating along with constant repetition to add to the gloom.

    Editor’s response: We try hard to ensure that our reporting is balanced.

    As previously stated, Guildford continues to do better than many towns and our coverage on the issue reflects that. An analysis of The Guildford Dragon NEWS coverage shows that about two-thirds of our articles on retail in our town talk about new shops and retail successes. Only a third of our articles are reporting on shops closing or in trouble and in those cases we are simply reporting events.

    Over the last few months, we have had articles on the following new and existing shops and businesses: Theion Greek Restaurant, Carbon Blush, Guildford Escape Rooms, Popworld Bar, Richer Sounds, Look Fabulous Forever, Kernow Model Railways, Swift Stitch, iStore, Purrfect Pets, Electrik Ink, Norbury Cheese, Loakes Shoes, Redber Coffee, Tunsgate Quarter, Amor Amora restaurant, Delicious Dishes restaurant, Sandiacre Nursery, The Shahin, Moffats, Michael Chell and Neom Organics.

    Each month an Indie of the month is featured.

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