Au revoir to Fromage & French
17th January 2019
ANOTHER high street shop is to cease trading, blaming ‘crippling’ business rates, an increase in wholesale prices and a disappointing Christmas period.
Fromage & French, an independent delicatessen that sells quality cheeses and wines imported from France, is to close its doors on February 9.
The shop on Tunbridge Wells High Street opened in 2016 and has proved popular by locals, but in the face of ‘crippling’ business rates, poor sales over the festive period, and Brexit-induced hikes in wholesale prices, owner Gaelle Coyle said she has no choice but to close.
“Up until the beginning of last year we were doing really well, better than the year before, but things started to slow down during the summer,” she said.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of other retailers and they are all saying the same thing. Everybody is struggling.”
Ms Coyle even opened some evenings so customers could come in and sip samples from their state of the art wine dispensing machine, but it wasn’t enough.
“I don’t regret it. This shop was always a dream for me and I am glad that I have done it. I wanted to give people a different experience, and people really seemed to enjoy it.”
She said that business rates in particular were one of the reasons she could no longer continue trading.
“We are a small independent business and yet we are paying the same business rates as the large chains. It just makes no sense. You don’t get anything for it - it is just a tax on having a business.”
Wholesalers too warned her that imports were set to rise 10-15 per cent due to Brexit, but the final nail in the coffin was a poor Christmas performance.
“Christmas was not as good as the year before, and when Christmas is not good then that’s your whole year,” admitted Ms Coyle.
She said compared to the previous festive season, sales were down by a third.
Fromage & French is the latest in a number of local retailers to announce closures. As reported in the Times last week, both Cardmarket on the precinct and Millets on Camden Road are having closing down sales, joining an ever lengthening list of stores that have shut their doors for the last time.
Christmas, normally a boom time for retailers, has proved disappointing for many.
Big names, including Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and Sainsbury’s all reported poor like for like sales over the festive period.
Nicky Blanchard, Centre Manager of Royal Victoria Place, said Christmas at the shopping centre had been ‘mixed’.
“General Retail saw positive growth during the month of December, whilst fashion was impacted to some extent due to the mild weather. As we are all aware, trading conditions are challenging across the UK, and Tunbridge Wells is no exception.
Town Centre Manager for Royal Tunbrodge Wells Together, Karen Pengelly, said Christmas saw ‘a very mixed, erratic and unpredictable trading pattern’.
“On average, transaction values have risen but footfall in Tunbridge Wells has reduced, as it has everywhere.”
She said by and large traders were ‘happy’ with their Christmas performance, adding that many shops in the town now sell online, so even though high street numbers may be down, actual sales could have increased.
“It would be an exaggeration to say that all was rosy, but the death of retail and the high street is simply not true,” she argued.