Neal Street, just around the corner from Arthur Beale, is described as “one of the most eclectic streets for shopping in London” yet when I took a stroll down the street just before Christmas there were 16 empty shops. Most were dressed up with fancy graphics saying “Exciting Retail Opportunity” but let’s face the facts, they were empty because the previous owners couldn’t make the sums add up.
I’m sure most of you have read about the tough times that high streets are having but sadly I don’t think the council or the leasing agents have read the newspapers. We are already having to compete with massive online companies all out to bankrupt the small independent traders and foraging their profits in low tax countries and, if that wasn’t enough, we now have the inconsiderate actions of Camden Council to deal with.
Arthur Beale, like nearly every other high street shop, makes most of their profit during November and December. So why did Camden Council schedule to dig up the pavement in November and December! These were no minor works, they completely destroyed any semblance of Christmassy atmosphere and forced the remaining few visitors into a narrow, noisy and filthy gangway preventing any chance of pleasant “window shopping”. To add to the misery, despite promises to the contrary, they got rid of our treasured loading bay and fenced the road off from the shop. One poor courier spent an hour trying to deliver a small parcel. The bike racks have gone too.
Whether by coincidence or not, on Friday 13th December the gas main blew a leak outside our shop and the whole of Shaftesbury Avenue was closed to shoppers. The gas contractors then burst the water main which flooded our basement. Camden said that it is normal to flood basements and would offer no rate rebate for all the disturbance and chaos. The gas contractors simply said “we don’t do compensation”.
They still haven’t finished the paving works which are, of course, running behind schedule but now we are told the whole lot needs digging up again to renew the gas mains!
Then you might have thought there would be some help from the Letting Agents who handle our lease, but sadly not. We have been asking for a list of works needed to renew our lease continuously since April 2018 with no joy. They have the list but won’t show it to us! Without the list, we don't know what we are meant to do! We have great plans for the future of Arthur Beale but without clarity on the new lease everything is on hold. I suspect the lawyers will be the winners here.
If the Council and the Leaseholder’s agents want to clear the area of independent retailers, then they are going about it the right way– just take a stroll down Neal Street to see all the empty shops!
Why don’t they realise, times have changed and instead of throwing obstacles at us, maybe we could do with a helping hand.