There is a definite problem with some landlords, in Shepton Mallet keeping rents artificially high. I am lucky enough to have a landlord who understands the difficult economic times and who has been flexible enough to negotiate the rent with us. They told me that they would rather have someone in the shop than having it empty.
Today, I took the liberty of phoning a different local landlord, who was not being at all flexible on price, to have a discussion about this problem, that is not helping to regenerate the High Street whatsoever!
The landlord said, 'I would rather the property stayed empty, than rent it out for less than I want to'!
I replied that surely it would be better to let a business be in there for nothing, or at least a reduced rent, with a signed agreement stating they would get out as soon as someone was available to rent the unit at the required price. The landlord said that there was no way that they would entertain that idea.
Although the person I was talking to seemed to me to be on the defensive at first, I think they understood that I was looking for common ground. We had an interesting conversation where we agreed that the public, the shopkeepers and they, as landlords, would all want to see the regeneration of the High Street, however, whereas shopkeepers like to blame the lack of business sustainability on the landlord for charging too high a rent, this particular landlord likes to point a finger at the public and blame them for choosing not to shop at the local shops and choosing not to support them. The landlord said that the public need to support the shops and use them, if they want them. Then the public have made noises about Shepton Mallet High Street saying that the shopping choice isn't strong enough, that there needs to be a Marks and Spencers, or Waitrose, to draw people in to the centre. The shrinking Friday Market is another issue that needs addressing. Some people have said that the market is held at the wrong time of day, on the wrong day of the week, saying that if you work, you can't use it. Others have complained that the quality of the fruit and veg is hit and miss. Some people say that the market needs to start at the top of town, so that it can be seen from Tesco and draw people into town and some say it needs to go back around the market cross, off the road and that the road should be kept open, instead of being closed on market day.
Would we be worrying about these things if the economy was strong? I don't think so, things would just be ticking along nicely.
Perhaps the reason that it's so difficult to run any business at the moment is because the economy is so poor and generally, people do not have the money to spend, so the landlord waiting for the public to support the local shops with the limited amounts of money they have is futile, they are looking to the people who are struggling the most, the people whose wages have decreased, or stayed the same despite inflation and VAT increases, to spend at the same level they always did but they cannot, they are expecting people who have been made redundant, or had their hours at work cut, to maintain the same level of spending as they did in more affluent times. In asking the public to support their customers, do the landlords of the buildings in the High Street actually come into the high street and support the high street, do their shopping there, do business meetings there, do they think about where they shop and where they spend their money? Hang on a minute, this is ringing a familiar bell in my head, once again an image is conjured up in my mind of someone at the top getting people to spend money with them and then those people deciding not to spend their money in the local community and it all gets drained away to goodness knows where, just like a messed up water cycle, where if it's not sustainable, it will dry up and there is nothing left for anyone.
I don't know what the answer is but I do know that shopkeepers, landlords and shoppers are all stakeholders in the High Street and we all have to work together, not to keep things the same but to move into the future, to embrace change.
If we all point the finger of blame at each other, we will get nothing done, we have to innovate and create a new way and we have to learn how to understand what motivates a landlord. Maybe they are correct not to budge on the price, or is there a way of calculating a shop's worth with a formula, could it be that a fair rent for the unit could be, affluence grading of the area (where the higher the disposable income, the higher the grading, from 1 being an economically challenged area to 10 being an area with a large disposable income) x shop size (where the biggest is 10 on a scale and the smallest is 1) x average footfall per day, as measured over 1 year = ? Then divided by 3 = your monthly rent in pounds.
It tickled me when in The Journal rents in Glastonbury, with much higher footfall and more disposable income and in Wells where again, there's more cash and feet about, were compared to the rents for similar properties in Shepton Mallet and judged to be in line but unfortunately, the footfall and affluence of the area wasn't taken into consideration.
The properties in Shepton are in general, priced too highly for the footfall and the area. A campaign, not against the landlords but to work with the landlords to consider what could motivate them to make changes, would be an amazing step forward, I believe.
Maybe the law needs changing, maybe there could be a law saying that no unit can be empty for more than two months and in that time, the local council have responsibility for using the shop front as a way to advertise other local shops, businesses and services, like a big colourful billboard.
I'd love to hear your ideas about this.
What can be done to regenerate our high street, to move forward with the times?