SPIRALLING rental fees have been blamed for independent shopkeepers being forced out of Wetherby.
The number of empty units in the town centre alone has now reached 17 – with another two traders understood to be set to call time on their premises in the coming weeks.
As our photographs show, the number of empty shops continues to increase, leading to calls for landlords to lower their “horrific” rates.
One trader in the town centre was recently quoted a rent increase of 30 per cent, while another’s rent alone was more than his rent and rates combined at another premises in Northallerton.
Both shops have since closed down.
Now, the chairman of Wetherby Business Association, Rosemary Nicholson, has called on landlords to lower the rent demands - warning that the consequences of continued spiralling rises could be dire.
“How can you possibly be expected to survive if landlords are putting up their rent by as much as 30per-cent? It’s horrific,” she said.
“It’s totally unsustainable. The greed of some landlords is squeezing our independent shopkeepers out. They simply can’t survive.
“I find it very disappointing that the cost of rent continues to creep up.
“Take the haberdashery shop as an example. That’s closed down now so if you want any haberdashery items you have to go to Harrogate, York or Leeds.
“Now if you’re making a specific journey to another shopping centre for goods you used to be able to get in Wetherby then you may as well do the rest of your shopping there too.
“If independent shops are squeezed out and we don’t have the range of shops that we used to then people won’t come to Wetherby.
“The whole point of a shopping centre is that it has a good range of shops. If all you’ve got is charity shops, for example, then you’ll stop going there.
“The landlords really have got to look at how much they’re charging. I can’t believe that they’d rather have empty shops than a reliable income. I’m flummoxed by it.”
Although Wetherby still runs a relatively healthy town centre, the sheer amount of to-let signs and empty shop fronts has begun to raise alarm bells among some business leaders.
Among them, Nish Kanabar, who runs Wetherby’s post office, Castlegate Stationers, and Castlegate toy shop – and whose family has more than 50 years’ retail experience – has called for rents to be lowered in a bid to attract fresh business into the town centre.
“I think in 12 months’ time Wetherby will either be thriving or dead in the water,” Mr Kanabar said.
“This is a huge concern for traders in Wetherby at the moment and I believe there are now 17 units around Wetherby to let.
“The current climate is a major factor into why these shops are closing down, however the main factor I think is landlords and agents acting on behalf of landlords, who are charging rents which are too high and are just not sustainable.
“Shop traders will not be able to make a living here in Wetherby if it continues.
“I would like to see a cross-section of more specialised, independent shops here in Wetherby so people are able to get all their facilities from the town centre.
“We do not currently have a phone shop, a motor accessories shop or anything selling children’s items like prams or pushchairs.
“Wetherby is an attractive town and has a lot to offer. It is a tidy town and attracts tourists but landlords now need to offer incentives to traders who want to come into the town and start a business here.”
Town deputy mayor and Wetherby ward councillor Alan Lamb (Cons, Wetherby) echoed those views.
“It’s a big issue and you’d think the landlords would take a sympathetic view,” Coun Lamb said.
“They have a resposibility to the town and if they want a bustling shopping centre then they’ve got to do thir bit.”
Despite some traders being put off by big rent increases, independent stores continue to do good business in Wetherby.
However, shoppers are beginning to notice the rise in empty units and have joined the call for landlords to lower their fees.
“You’d think it’d be a case of you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours with landlords,” said shopper Robyn Bingham.
“Surely it’d be better to have occupied shops, albeit with less rent coming in, than have to let signs and empty windows all over the place.
“If I was a small businessman I’d be asking myself why on earth the landlords are asking me for 30 per cent extra when they can’t even fill the space they’ve got.
“I’ve lived in Kirk Deighton all my life and I love coming to Wetherby - I love the market, the smaller shops and I love the atmosphere.
“But you can’t ignore the fact that there are far more to let signs springing up.”
l WHAT do you think? Are higher rent rates driving shopkeepers out of town? What should be done to encourage fresh businesses to the town? Perhaps you think Wetherby is thriving despite the rent increases.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to us at Wetherby News, 9 Westgate, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS22 6LL