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Why are Greenwich's independent shops closing?
WHAT'S behind a spate of recent shop closures around Greenwich town centre and can anything be done about it?
When kitchenware store Bert & Betty announced its upcoming closure, the news was depressing but, unfortunately, just the latest in a recent run of recession-hit independent businesses.
The shop joins a list of closures which includes well-established Greenwich names like Stitches and Daughters, game shop Compendia, Belle and Home Front.
On Church Street, long-standing redevelopment plans mean Darlings and one branch of Bullfrogs will be demolished, while round the corner, a forthcoming branch of millionaire chef Jamie Oliver's restaurant chain appears to herald a different future.
Sophie Jarman from Bert & Betty, which has a sale on until it closes on March 2, said: "The recession, along with price rises and ever increasing costs, have proved too much for us as they have for many other independent and chain stores."
She said: "It's really just been a dreadful trading year, partly because of the Olympics.
"It was a beautiful thing to have the Olympics but for me personally and these shops it was very bad."
Around the market, there's not much love lost for the 2012 Games - where much of the town centre was effectively barricaded off - with traders also complaining of high rates, declining footfall and - by far the most popular gripe - a £2.50 an hour car parking charge imposed by the council.
Stall holder John Clifford said: "Now people that come to Greenwich know they can't park. It's £2.50 an hour. That's far too dear.
"Most of the shops now are food shops and it does now really rely on tourists. If people don't look out for the shops here something's got to give."
Mehmet Karadag, who runs a photography stall, said: "The problem with Greenwich is the only time it's really busy is the summer. Without the tourists I think we're knackered in the market."
Lara Boyle, Beauty and the Bib
Ms Boyle's shop now stands next to three empty units in the market and has had to let go two full time staff recently.
She said: "We had a really bad summer and that, coupled with the recessions, coupled with the terrible weather, coupled with the rents and rates meant some people just couldn't take too many knocks.
"The rest of us are still here, keeping our heads above water and just about doing that."
She said: "We've really had to tighten our belts, we don't have a budget for advertising. We've gone back to basics, back to being a family business."
The shop should be alright, she said, because it sells baby gifts which are always popular, but she does think the opening of Stratford's Westfield and summer redevelopment work at the market will have an impact.
She said: "The danger is that the big boys muscle in on the market. They can afford to pay the rent and take the losses and wait for the good times. The small traders like us can's always ride with the storm.
"People need to give young entrepreneurs a break here. There must be a way we can reinvigorate Greenwich so it doesn't lose its heart and soul."
Isaac Lilos, Arty Globe
Mr Lilos's shop, which began as a market stall, actually did quite well during the Olympics, he says, but the months surrounding it were bad.
He said: "When things are challenging and there are difficulties and things don't go to plan, that's an interesting opportunity to get better, to adapt and change and plan something new.
"I know it's what a lot of other shops do but we do things like changing something every single day. I wake up, I look at the website, the shop and I think have things changed around me. Do I need to change?"
He said: "We're in a recession, less people are buying, less people are coming to Greenwich, but some of the businesses I see today in the area look the same as the first time I came to Greenwich four or five years ago.
"You can't just sit there and do the things you did before the recession."
Mr Lilos, whose shop has expanded into areas including special commissions and corporate gifts, said: "I personally feel that what's happening to Greenwich now and the rest of the world is natural selection.
"It's still a great opportunity because it's the small businesses that can offer something unique and a great service to the customers.
"The closure of shops is sad but these things happen. People die, shops close, businesses end their life but that;s an opportunity for new businesses , new blood to come in and set up something new and special.
"I can see the yin and yang."
Edward Dolby, Greenwich Hospital
Edward Dolby from Greenwich Hospital, which owns most of the town centre, said: "Plainly we're a charity that survives on our income and so we're always striving to ensure that we're fully let. It doesn't do us any good to have vacancies.
"There are always folk coming and going and that's actually quite healthy."
He said he was unaware of an Olympic hangover and said the charity was still committed to having small businesses.
And he denied the rents were too high, saying: "If you charge rents that are very high you don't get any tenants."
Mr Dolby said: "I think the Olympics effect is that Greenwich is on the map and, now the news is out about Jamie's, I think people realise this is a really good place to be."
A spokesman for Greenwich Council said: "While we keep parking charges constantly under review and are always prepared to consider representations for changes, the present economic climate where we have witnessed a double dip recession and are close to a triple dip does require government to change course and support putting more people back to work to improve the collective purchasing power in the economy.
"Locally, Greenwich is launching a £6m fund to take people off benefit and support them into work as well as acting to further promote the town centre as a tourism destination for those local businesses serving those customers."
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