Anger among traders as chain store is given lease on iconic city site

Oxford Mail: Colin Dawson of David John Butchers in Oxford’s Covered Market. Picture: OX50261 Damian Halliwell Colin Dawson of David John Butchers in Oxford’s Covered Market. Picture: OX50261 Damian Halliwell

TRADERS and shoppers fear the arrival of a Cards Galore shop is the start of an influx of national chains which will increase rents and drive out independent stores from Oxford’s historic Covered Market.

The former Palms delicatessen unit in the Oxford City Council-owned Covered Market remained empty for two years until the council agreed to let it to the national greeting card retailer Cards Galore in December.

But the move has upset traders, councillors and property experts, who says it flies in the face of the market’s leasing strategy against accommodating high street chains.

Traders also fear the financial muscle of national chains will see the rents demanded by the council go up, as another round of lease reviews looms.

Covered Market Traders’ Association secretary Sandie Grifftith said: “The council needs to clarify its policy and tell us whether it is now open house for chains. The Covered Market should not be the place for chains.”

Colin Dawson, 56, of David John Butchers, opposite Cards Galore, said: “It’s a worrying development that a chain has been allowed in.”

Owner of The Hat Box, Gillian Senior, said: “Chains don’t have to worry so much about rents, so I think it’s unfair competition if they are allowed to come in.”

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The market’s leasing strategy document states: “Applications for change of use where the lease is to be assigned to a high street multiple will not generally be permitted unless there is a real and positive benefit to the balance of trades/diversity."

City councillor for city development Colin Cook said: “The leasing strategy does not say that there should be ‘no national chains’.

“This argument has been well rehearsed previously when Timpsons the shoe repairers took a lease.

“Timpsons added to the diversity of trades in the market then, as I believe will Cards Galore in the future.”

However, in June last year Mr Cook said the council had a commitment to “maintaining the character of the market, the balance of uses and our policy of excluding national retail chains” and “not compromising on these principles”.

Lord Mayor of Oxford Elise Benjamin said: “The danger is that the council has become so obsessed with rent levels that it has lost sight of the wider picture.

“It is the multiples that can pay the rents. But we run the risk of turning Oxford into a clone city.”

The council advertised the Palms site for rent at £40,000 a year. The Oxford Mail understands it is renting the unit to Cards Galore for £36,000, with the first nine months free.

John Partington, a former director of the Covered Market Traders’ Association and owner of chocolate shop Chocology, offered the council £25,000 for the site two years ago – the rent paid by the previous tenant – plus six months’ arrears. It was rejected.

He said traders were worried the council might be setting a benchmark in order to argue for higher rents following reviews due next month.

Rupert Sheppard, of Oxford surveyors Cluttons Styles & Whitlock, said: “The letting of the unit to a multiple retailer may be used to apply across-the-board rent increases that would in turn jeopardise the viability of the Covered Market.”

Cards Galore spokesman Rumit Shah said: “We would argue that is better for this unit to be occupied rather than remain vacant.”

* THE Covered Market was launched to clear untidy and unsavoury stalls from the main streets of Oxford and, after 1773, meat was only allowed to be sold inside the market.

The earliest stalls were in colonnaded blocks and the high-raftered roofs of today are the outcome of 19th century rebuilding.

Sunday opening started in 2010 despite the reluctance of some traders to open seven days a week.

Comments (7)

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9:29am Thu 9 Feb 12

Cathena says...

The council should be careful not to price the traders out of the market. We have already lost some excellent shops.
The council should be careful not to price the traders out of the market. We have already lost some excellent shops. Cathena
  • Score: 0

10:00am Thu 9 Feb 12

Sid Hunt says...

Difficult situation but if the unit was vacant for two years it indicates that either there is no independent able to fill it or none that is willing to pay for it.
Difficult situation but if the unit was vacant for two years it indicates that either there is no independent able to fill it or none that is willing to pay for it. Sid Hunt
  • Score: 0

10:12am Thu 9 Feb 12

Dilligaf2010 says...

Chains shouldn't be allowed in the covered market, they can afford to rent elsewhere, the market should be for independent retailers only.
I've no idea why the council is charging astronomical rents for the market, the building has long since been paid for, realistically the rent charged should be sufficient to cover general maintenance and upkeep, and at a level low enough to encourage new traders to start businesses.
Chains shouldn't be allowed in the covered market, they can afford to rent elsewhere, the market should be for independent retailers only. I've no idea why the council is charging astronomical rents for the market, the building has long since been paid for, realistically the rent charged should be sufficient to cover general maintenance and upkeep, and at a level low enough to encourage new traders to start businesses. Dilligaf2010
  • Score: 0

10:13am Thu 9 Feb 12

Debbie Dance OPT says...

We know that the city council is under financial pressure but there needs to be some balance to the approach they are taking. Oxford's Covered Market is part of Oxford's town heritage and an asset to local people and our visitors - not just a piece of history but an economic asset, and a very special place. The media has been full of Mary Portas and her call for independent traders and individual character in our towns and cities - we have that place in the Covered Market. The new unit is against the spirit of the place, it spoils it, take a look for yourself - we must make sure the city council are not allowed to spoil it further.
We know that the city council is under financial pressure but there needs to be some balance to the approach they are taking. Oxford's Covered Market is part of Oxford's town heritage and an asset to local people and our visitors - not just a piece of history but an economic asset, and a very special place. The media has been full of Mary Portas and her call for independent traders and individual character in our towns and cities - we have that place in the Covered Market. The new unit is against the spirit of the place, it spoils it, take a look for yourself - we must make sure the city council are not allowed to spoil it further. Debbie Dance OPT
  • Score: 0

10:46am Thu 9 Feb 12

Koworld says...

Sid Hunt wrote:
Difficult situation but if the unit was vacant for two years it indicates that either there is no independent able to fill it or none that is willing to pay for it.
It went vacant for two years because the council were asking for £15,000/pa more than the previous independent was paying. Palms went out of business, the council had an empty site for two years and the new tenant has the site for nine months for free.

So the council have lost £68,750 in revenue (and I'm not including two years of lost business rates which will have been thousands on top), when what they should have done is offer Palms some support and relief on their rent while the business struggled.

That sort of enlightened thinking may well have both prevented the council losing tens of thousands in rent and might have saved a business that was important for the diversity of the covered market.

I am a retailing expert incidentally, with clients globally and it frustrates me very much to see that Oxford City Council continues to mess-up their retail strategy. This is a city that can support a vibrant mixed retail sector but that fails to do so through short-sighted greed, amateur-buffoonery and lack of crucial retail knowledge.
[quote][p][bold]Sid Hunt[/bold] wrote: Difficult situation but if the unit was vacant for two years it indicates that either there is no independent able to fill it or none that is willing to pay for it.[/p][/quote]It went vacant for two years because the council were asking for £15,000/pa more than the previous independent was paying. Palms went out of business, the council had an empty site for two years and the new tenant has the site for nine months for free. So the council have lost £68,750 in revenue (and I'm not including two years of lost business rates which will have been thousands on top), when what they should have done is offer Palms some support and relief on their rent while the business struggled. That sort of enlightened thinking may well have both prevented the council losing tens of thousands in rent and might have saved a business that was important for the diversity of the covered market. I am a retailing expert incidentally, with clients globally and it frustrates me very much to see that Oxford City Council continues to mess-up their retail strategy. This is a city that can support a vibrant mixed retail sector but that fails to do so through short-sighted greed, amateur-buffoonery and lack of crucial retail knowledge. Koworld
  • Score: 1

12:56pm Thu 9 Feb 12

DDOxon says...

I love the Covered Market and it makes me proud to live in such a stunning City. Tourists come from all over the world to see Oxford and many come to see the Covered Market, taking pictures and awestruck by it. It is unique and special. It is so 'Dickensian' and I love it, love it, love it. However, if the council are going to start allowing a 21st century feel to it purely for profit, I will have to protest. If chain stores wish to enter Oxford, then they should stick to the High Street.
I love the Covered Market and it makes me proud to live in such a stunning City. Tourists come from all over the world to see Oxford and many come to see the Covered Market, taking pictures and awestruck by it. It is unique and special. It is so 'Dickensian' and I love it, love it, love it. However, if the council are going to start allowing a 21st century feel to it purely for profit, I will have to protest. If chain stores wish to enter Oxford, then they should stick to the High Street. DDOxon
  • Score: 0

4:48pm Sat 11 Feb 12

The Big Issue says...

The Covered Market is nice but's it's so expensive: The kids clothes in 2 foot nothing's extortionate..
The Covered Market is nice but's it's so expensive: The kids clothes in 2 foot nothing's extortionate.. The Big Issue
  • Score: -1

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