St John's Wood High Street traders' fears after Harry's closure
- Credit: Lilian Fawcett
After the closure of Harry's, its landlord has said it has offered assistance to its tenants – but neighbouring traders have voiced fears about the High Street's future.
Restaurant and deli Harry Morgan closed last Tuesday after 73 years.
Manager Antonio Franco said landlord Trophaeum Advisors had refused to negotiate on rent reductions or rent holiday, despite lost revenue over the pandemic.
But Tropheaum’s managing director, Matt Farrell, has told the Ham&High this is “definitely not true”.
He said the firm had offered financial assistance to all their tenants on St John’s Wood High Street during the pandemic, including Harry’s.
“Landlords have their obligations as well," he said. "Quite often they have mortgages. They’ve got their stakeholders, which could be a pension fund."
Tropheaum owns 60% of properties in the High Street and he said: some retailers have renewed their leases.
“In terms of the rents being too high, at the end of the day it’s a kind of demand and supply equation," he said.
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Although some units are currently empty Mr Farrell said said Tropheaum is "continuing to have huge interest in renting spaces on the high street from potential other tenants".
Non-essential retail was allowed to reopen on April 12, along with outdoor dining, and further easing of restrictions is to to take place on May 17.
But some owners and staff say business has been slow since the reopening, and the closure of Harry's took the number of empty units in the High Street to eight.
Homeware store Lords manager Nelson Fonseca, speaking in a personal capacity, told the Ham&High things have been quiet.
“It’s been extremely difficult,” he said. “There are sometimes even spaces of time for two, three hours when we don’t see even one customer.”
He added: “The government allowed landlords, or companies, to take over the high street. This has a name, and it’s called a monopoly… this is what I believe is happening.”
Maqsood Anwar, who owns newsagent and sandwich shop Azan with his wife Nazia Razzaq, said business on the bottom end of the street has been “very dull – very, very, very quiet”.
Local resident Philippa Kingsley was sad and angry upon finding out about the closing of Harry’s.
“It’s destroying the whole fabric of St John’s Wood High Street,” she said. “It was a salt beef place but it was much more than that – it was one of the places that was the soul of St John’s Wood.”
She added: “It’s all about greed. That says it all: greed.”
Laura Burnes, another local resident, blamed increasing rental costs for the closure of some businesses.
“It’s very sad, because some of the businesses have been here for so many years and you have good communication and a good vibe with the community, and suddenly they close the shops,” she said.
Other businesses which have closed include Fego Caffe, clothing stores ME+EM and Apostrophe, and Joshua Altback hair salon.
Scarlet Chitolie, who owns health food shop Nature’s Healing Garden, has noticed the high street changing.
“It was very busy 11 years ago and we had a lot more cafes, lots more restaurants and prominent shops,” she said.
“What we need is more cafes and more restaurants. And that has gone down, and what’s popped up is estate agents.”
She said she was shocked at the closure of Harry's, and that when established businesses close down, it affects footfall in her health food store, as fewer people are coming to the high street.
Amy Brown, manager at the Fish Shop pop-up, said: “I definitely think losing Harry Morgan’s is going to be a real detriment to the street. You won’t get as much footfall, which I think will be really sad.”
The fishmonger has been there since September 2020 on a temporary lease and she said its owner will look for a permanent contract after the summer, but that she is unsure whether it will return to St John’s Wood.
The high street is due a new business soon, with parenting store and play space b_together opening its doors soon.