Profitable gift shop closes due to high business rates

Michael Smith, of the Mens Gift Shop, pictured with father Rene Saarbach. The shop is closing after 13 years. SUS-150223-135134001
Michael Smith, of the Mens Gift Shop, pictured with father Rene Saarbach. The shop is closing after 13 years. SUS-150223-135134001

A PROFITABLE gift shop would not be closing if ‘antiquated’ business rates were halved to help small retailers, its owner has said.

Michael Smith has run the Mens Gift Shop, in Montague Street, Worthing, for the past 13 years but will close at the end of the month.

He has launched a stinging attack on the business rates system, which he views as out of date and favouring larger firms.

He said: “The biggest problem for us is the antiquated system of business rates, which is just not fit for purpose.

“If rates were halved, then we would not be shutting.”

Mr Smith believes larger retailers and online firms such as Amazon have the advantage on smaller traders due to complex business rates calculations, which have not been updated for years.

He said: “Once a shop hits 1,850 square metres, it becomes a large shop and rates are capped at £70 per square metre. We pay £350 per square metre.

“A company like Amazon would pay £35 per square metre. They pay 10 per cent of what we do because it is classed as a warehouse. Amazon isn’t a warehouse, it’s a retailer.”

The town centre’s vacancy rate has fallen to just under five per cent, with 44 empty units. The Mens Gift Shop closure follows the closure of Thieves Kitchen, in Warwick Street, Barneys, in Portland Road, and the Spyglass pub, in Marine Parade, among others.

But the closures are mitigated by the imminent opening of Starbucks and Pandora, along with a new spa in Portland Road and Brantano replacing Bensons for Beds, in South Street.

British Home Stores is also on the market, following owner Sir Philip Green’s decision to put the chain up for sale. Town centre manager Sharon Clarke said: “Any shop that goes is unfortunate and a sign of the times, where people are resorting to internet buying.

“We hear about problems with business rates all the time and I think it’s also the added costs on top which cause problems.”

Mr Smith praised the Town Centre Initiative for its ‘fabulous’ work lobbying for traders. The Government announced a business rates review in the Autumn Statement but it is yet to take place. Mr Smith believes the help on offer to date has not been enough.