Saturday, 26 July 2014

Green shoots of recovery

In his mammoth history of the Second World War, Antony Beevor writes of how the mood of the Wehrmacht lifted in the Spring of 1942 following the struggles of the previous winter:
Yet once the birch trees came into leaf and the sun began to dry out the waterlogged land, the morale of German officers experienced an extraordinary revival. It was as if the terrible winter had been little more than a bad dream, and now their run of victories would recommence.
After six years of virtually unrelieved hard pounding following the smoking ban and the recession, the economic recovery now seems to be persuading some pub operators that the broad sunlit uplands may once again be attainable. The most recent beer sales figures were the most positive this century, even for the on-trade.

I can remember when Stockport Market Place was home to six pubs and bars – including two new conversions – and was the centre of a vibrant live music scene. Slowly, they fell by the wayside, and by the end of last year, after the closure of the Baker’s Vaults, the number was down to two, although, to be fair, the recently-refurbished and renamed Cocked Hat was a great improvement on the old Pack Horse. The centre of gravity of the town-centre pub trade had very much shifted to the “Stockport Slope” half a mile further west on and around the A6 between the Crown and the Hope.

But the money is now starting to flow, with Robinson’s having reopened the Baker’s Vaults following an expensive trendy makeover, and plans being well advanced to bring the long-dormant premises of Bambooza (previously Yates’ Wine Lodge) back into use as “Live Bar”. Apparently this – in a high-ceilinged former bank – is to be a “sports and music focused bar”, albeit with six real ales available. People clearly see an opportunity and are prepared to put their money where their mouth is.

I get the feeling, though, that many independent pub operators just seem to take an attitude of “if you build it, they will come” rather than carrying out any detailed market research. Stockport town centre does suffer from a serious lack of footfall in the evenings and, if these new ventures are to succeed, they will need to draw fresh customers in from outside.

Economic revival can cut both ways, though. Five years ago, I wrote about how the Ryecroft Arms in Cheadle Hulme had been given a stay of execution, because the recession had caused plans to redevelop the site for sheltered housing had fallen through. It continued to struggle on, but Hydes never really seem to have made a go of it, and it now looks as though it is finally going to close. There must be many other pubs around where improving property prices now make them more attractive for conversion to alternative use.

It does seem to be a perennial problem that, despite all the nearby houses, modern estate-type pubs just seem doomed to failure unless they can be turned into destination dining venues as has happened with the Pointing Dog (ex-Smithy). If there was a magic formula, surely someone would have happened on it by now.

And – no doubt you will think “you would say that, you miserable doom-mongering git” – but in my view the long-term secular trend for the pub trade remains resolutely downwards. One swallow does not make a summer.

Incidentally, I wonder when they’re going to get round to putting the final coat of paint on the Baker’s on top of the grey primer.

2 comments:

  1. GDP may have improved ever so slightly, but most people's wages are significantly lower in real terms than they were a few years ago, resulting in fewer people having disposable income. Pubs are still stuffed until that changes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. this entire blog is about the long slow gradual decline and death of the pub/

    oh my god, what if things start to look up? what if things get better?

    ReplyDelete

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