Love Your High Street: High Street rates rules putting off independents

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When you buy from an independent trader you are also probably feeding their kids.

As the nation counts the cost of Black Friday and Cyber Monday on their bank balances, the one man band businesses and independents are gearing up for Small Business Saturday.

There won’t be prices slashes and huge discounts as the cost of what they are selling is their actual wage.

Taking part this weekend will be the familiar faces at Fabrication Crafts in the St John’s Centre in Leeds which houses around 70 micro-businesses made up of fashion designers, costume makers, jewellery designers and other similar creative trades.

It provides the shared use of equipment and workspace that otherwise traders just couldn’t afford. For example, it rents a photography studio out for £10 an hour which would ordinarily be £1000 a day.

Dawn Wood, founded the enterprise ten years ago. “It is the anti Black Friday. Everything is our wages, so never ask for discount”, she joked.

“A bloke asked me what was the best price for something and I said ‘if your boss asked you what was the best price for your wages, what would you say?’. He took the point.

“People say why does something cost that much, but it has been my sole income for 30 years. If a store can offer 70 per cent off, what is the mark up and what are they paying the makers? It is about it being sustainable.”

However, there is a greater issue facing the independent trader on the Leeds high street says Ms Wood.

When Fabrication Crafts was looking for new premises it found there were plenty available – yet landlords were reluctant to rent them out.

Independent showcase: Fabrication Crafts is like a department store for independents.

Independent showcase: Fabrication Crafts is like a department store for independents.

Ms Wood said: “One of the problems we have in Leeds and when we talk about the high street – most properties are owned by pension funds and in historical areas, such as Albion Street, Briggate and Kirkgate, they don’t pay rates.

“I actually had a landlord’s agent say to me there is no upside to me renting the property (as they would have to pay fees for it being tenanted). That is one of the problems that we are facing and why the high streets look like they do.”

Ms Wood estimates that the empty properties in prime city centre areas such as Briggate, Vicar Lane, Commercial Street, Albion Street and The Headrow could be costing the council in the region of £2m in lost rates which they would recoup if the units were let out.

She added: “We talk about on-line shopping and Amazon (damaging the high street) but landlords don’t want to let them. I have the money but they would rather let to Maplin, BHS or Monsoon who are closing shops. It is soul-destroying.”

Love Your High Street - our campaign in association with Card Factory

Love Your High Street - our campaign in association with Card Factory

* Love Your High Street is our campaign i association with Card Factory.

Support: The Wonder of Woodcuts exhibition earlier this year.

Support: The Wonder of Woodcuts exhibition earlier this year.