Shop and restaurant close as traders feel pressure
A LANDMARK shop in Staple Hill and a recently-opened restaurant in Downend have closed, as the chair of a traders' group warns of the increasing pressures facing businesses.
The Original Factory Shop's Staple Hill branch shut on July 15, after being served notice to quit its premises on the corner of Broad Street and Byron Place by its landlord.
Downend restaurant Forage closed in June, less than eight months after opening.
The Original Factory Shop had been trading in Staple Hill for more than ten years, taking over the site of the former Somerfield supermarket, selling a wide variety of discount products including clothing, footwear, toys, perfumes, homewares and garden ornaments.
The company said in a statement: "As the landlord is looking to redevelop this site, it means that unfortunately we have had to exit the lease at our Staple Hill store.
"We are seeking to redeploy colleagues that have been affected wherever possible. Our next nearest branch is in Nailsea."
The Voice asked the company how many people had worked at the store, how many were being made redundant and whether it was seeking an alternative site in the area, but it declined to answer those questions.
Reports on social media that the building will now be converted into a gym have not been confirmed: no planning applications for the address are currently listed on South Gloucestershire Council's website.
Staff and customers posted messages on the company's Facebook page on the final day, with one worker saying: "Very sad closing the shutters for the final time – I nearly cried."
Staple Hill & Mangotsfield councillor Michael Bell said the closure would particularly affect residents without their own transport, who would now have to rely on bus services to reach shops selling the same range of goods.
He said: "I used the Factory Shop regularly myself – their prices on many of their items were very reasonable and the staff were always very courteous and helpful. I hope that they find alternative employment quickly."
The nearby Compass Project recycled furniture shop is also currently shut and the charity which runs it has not responded to a request for a comment, but Cllr Bell said he understood the closure was temporary.
Forage opened on the site of the former Crown's coffee and sandwich shop in Badminton Road last October.
Set up by local businessman and "foodie" Jesse Jones and chef Daniel Watson, it aimed to offer fine dining using locally-sourced produce, with starters ranging from £8.50 to £25, main courses from £18 to £35 and breakfasts from £8.50 to £12.50.
Jesse announced the restaurant's permanent closure on its Facebook page on June 19.
He told the Voice the closure was due to a combination of financial and staffing issues, saying: "We tried to make it work. Staffing was very hard, with two chefs cooking from scratch every day. It wasn't like in a pub, where you can just put the food in the microwave.
"It's a lot of money wasted, but it is what it is."
Jesse is trying to sell the business as a going concern and says he has had interest from some buyers.
Forage received a £10,000 grant last summer from South Gloucestershire Council's Help us Thrive fund to revive trade in high streets.
At the time Jesse described the grant as a "massive help" and said it had gone towards fitting the restaurant out and paying for items such as tables, chairs, kitchen equipment and flooring.
A council spokesperson said: "As the business is being sold as a ‘going concern’ and a business of a similar nature would continue to operate in Downend High Street, there is no requirement to reclaim the grant. This is because once it sells, the investment will continue to benefit Downend High Street in the future."
Staple Hill Chamber of Trade chair George Georgiou said high street businesses were in a "desperate" situation, with energy costs up by 60% and rent, stock, fuel and other operating costs all rising.
He said: "We're doing our best, organising markets to bring people in, but customers are struggling as well – it's affecting everyone."
George said businesses were facing a crisis comparable to the covid pandemic and called for government help with domestic fuel bills to be extended to small businesses.
He said: "There will be more closures unless we get some government assistance."