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Death of Fortess Road? Independent traders fear for future over business rate hike

Shops also fear impact of Britain's exit from EU

15 March, 2017 — By William McLennan

Lee Thomas says his business is being squeezed by both business rates and Brexit

IT has a butcher, baker… and a picture frame maker.

But traders in a parade of independent shops in Tufnell Park fear they will lose their fightback against the big chains when they are rocked by the fallout of Brexit and a hike in business rates.

Fortess Road has become known in recent years for its collection of small businesses but some shop owners are warning that their futures have been put at risk by a government move to increase rates by as much as 40 per cent.

Lee Thomas, who opened the framing firm 90 Degrees last year, said: “All the shops on this road are saying it, the last three months have been quite bad. Now, with business rates rising, it’s going to be tough. The only thing that keeps me afloat is the locals. They want to support local businesses, and that feels quite heart-warming. Without them I wouldn’t be here.”

Mr Thomas said he was also feeling the fallout from the referendum vote to leave the EU, citing a drop in custom from the area’s many French residents.

“Everyone is getting worried about what’s going to happen,” he said. “It does affect people’s spending. I had a big French customer base, because there’s a big French community, what with the school. They have stopped coming in and I know a few families that have moved back.”

London has a French community estimated at around 300,000, with Kentish Town boasting one of the highest concentrations, thanks in part to the Collège Français Bilingue de Londres, in Holmes Road.

Tammy Keogh opened the children’s toy and clothes store, Eeny Meeny, with her business partner last summer. She said they felt unfairly hit by the business rate rises, that are due to be introduced in April.

“I’m sure it’s Brexit, it’s Trump, it’s all of those things, but what’s more worrying is the rates going up. That’s what we don’t understand,” she said. “That’s life and that’s business, but it’s a shame, because all these little, independent businesses won’t be able to survive. The street will become a very dull, generic thing with more chains. We love being here, we love our customers and we love the community, so we are doing what we can to stay.”

Burn and Saskia Lamche outside women’s clothes shop Diverse, which moved to Tufnell Park from Upper Street, Islington, in June last year

Women’s clothes shop Diverse moved to Fortess Road from Upper Street, Islington, in June last year to escape the soaring rents and rising numbers of chain restaurants and estate agents. Saskia Lamche, whose mother established the business three decades ago, said the rise in rates would unfairly hit smaller traders. “It’s really nice to be surrounded by independents, but obviously with rate increases it’s a worry, you just think, is it going to turn into another high street that no independents can afford to be on? It’s such a shame for every single high street to become homogenised and to lose its identity.”

She added: “I think there should be more support for small independents, so [rates are calculated] more on a case-by-case scenario. You could have a Costa or Starbucks in here and they’d be paying exactly the same as me. In my opinion that’s not reasonable. It’s not fair.”

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