The super cool corner of UK suddenly becoming a ghost town as shops vanish | UK | News

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The super cool corner of UK suddenly becoming a ghost town as shops vanish | UK | News

West Village now sits empty

Vacant shop and cafe fronts now line the once thriving area (Image: Manchester Evening News)

Once a bustling hub, this Manchester suburb could soon be a ‘ghost town’, according to worried locals who admit they « struggle to sleep at night. »

West Didsbury, with its charming leafy streets and eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and bars, is one of Greater Manchester’s most sought-after areas. It’s known for its quirky breakfast spots, cosy daytime eateries and late-night drinking venues.

However, in just a few weeks, businesses along Burton Road and nearby have started to disappear. Greens, a vegetarian restaurant, was forced to shut after 33 years – and the owners of a deli closed their doors for good shortly afterwards. Now, a popular cafe and bar appears to have followed suit.

« Sometimes, I don’t sleep at night », Victor Calo, the general manager of Mercado on Burton Road, told the MEN. He reveals how footfall at his once-thriving cafe and deli has dropped dramatically, with no sign of recovery.

The remaining businesses are bracing themselves for a tough fight. The rising VAT rates, soaring food prices and the cost of living crisis gripping the country present a daunting challenge, with no end in sight.

« If I chill, that door doesn’t open and my staff don’t earn a living, » he continued.

Claire, General Manager at The George Charles

Claire from Rustik spoke about the closure of Simon Rimmer’s restaurant (Image: Manchester Evening News)

Mr Calo added: « Just today it has been incredibly difficult, and it could be even harder tomorrow. » But despite the challenges « we have to keep going, » he said.

« People are trying to save money – last year was difficult but it’s getting worse. I love Didsbury, I love the culture and the neighbourhood, but look around… it’s like a ghost town. »

After working for 18 years in the hospitality industry in the United States, Victor moved to Sale with his family. He believes the problems facing businesses include high VAT rates on restaurant meals, landlords increasing prices, the cost of importing goods due to Brexit, and people not having as much money because of the rising cost of living.

He said the situation in West Didsbury is a damaging ‘constant spiral’. Businesses are cutting their opening times to save money, which means the area could quickly get a reputation for being quiet and having few places to visit.

Burton Road in West Didsbury

Burton Road in West Didsbury – where businesses are trying their best to stay open (Image: Manchester Evening News)

On a Tuesday afternoon, many venues on Burton Road are closed. The ones that are open, such as FOLK, Rustik and Mercado, only have a few customers.

The manager said: « The businesses are saving labour costs – they’re closing front and back of house and having to do the maths on how to survive by closing and cutting hours.

« But what you create is this ghost town. People who used to want to come here for lunch can now only come in evenings, it’s a constant spiral. It only comes alive now three days a week. Footfall is declining and we have a crossroads now where the only way is down. You cannot survive just opening on weekends. »

Opening up on the situation, he added: « Sometimes I don’t sleep. My wife and daughter tell me to chill – but if I do, the door doesn’t open and my staff don’t earn a living. The minimum wage is also going up, so it’s constant hits and calculations – so much effort goes into opening those doors. For these business owners, it is their dream. »

Victor Calo at Mercado

Victor Calo at Mercado said he can often struggle to sleep at night over worry for the future (Image: Manchester Evening News)

The West Village bar, which was also called Another Heart To Feed during the day, has been empty since New Year’s and is up for sale. Mary and Archie, a restaurant on Burton Road, is still open but according to the MEN, it is attempting to find a £125,000 buyer.

Another home and lifestyle shop, named Moth, has also closed after 17 years in business, much to the shock of others who said it was a big part of the area since 2006.

It’s now moved online, and Hazel Marchant, who started the company, shared that they are taking a ‘new path’ in a touching message on social media. An opticians is due to replace the vacant unit.

Burton Road has recently seen the closure of its chippy and The Canadian Charcoal Pit takeaway. This follows the sudden closure of Greens, a Didsbury institution owned by TV chef Simon Rimmer, on January 2.

The team behind the beloved vegetarian restaurant, which had been open for 33 years, said they could « no longer make it work » due to a 35 per cent rent increase and rising costs making trading « impossible ».

Penny from A Taste of Honey

Penny from A Taste of Honey (Image: Manchester Evening News)

Greens, co-owned by Sunday Brunch host Simon Rimmer and his business partner Simon Connolly, opened in the suburb in 1990 and played a key role in popularising vegetarian dining in Greater Manchester and beyond. Cu

stomers, fans and celebrity friends of Rimmer expressed their sadness at the ‘devastating’ news, as did several local West Didsbury businesses. The shock closure led Sacha Lord, night time economy advisor for Greater Manchester, to issue a stark warning, claiming it was just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

Claire, the general manager of the George Charles restaurant and bar, also on Burton Road, previously stated that despite the overall scene in West Didsbury ‘still thriving’, there has been a significant downturn in trade.

She told the MEN: « Over the last year we’ve definitely noticed a downturn in trade, there’s not as many people coming out and people aren’t spending as much as they used to.

« For us, rent, wages, and the cost of our ingredients have all gone up, so a break in VAT would be a massive help. When the government dropped it during Covid it really helped keep our business afloat, so that would be one thing we would really appreciate. There are storm clouds gathering »

Burton Road is becoming a 'ghost town'

Burton Road is becoming a ‘ghost town’ (Image: Manchester Evening News)

Robert Downes, FSB Development Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses in Greater Manchester, mentioned it has been a ‘bruising few years’ for businesses – especially small high street independents.

The challenges caused by the pandemic, more people working from home, and less customer spending and disposable income, means the industry is facing a ‘perfect storm’, he said.

Add to this the rise in the National Living Wage, higher energy costs and rent hikes, and you get ‘storm clouds gathering’ over the industry, Mr Downes said.

« The tough times are getting worse, that’s the issue, » he explained to the Manchester Evening News. « It’s an overused term but the hospitality sector really is facing a perfect storm moment, and it’s more than likely the number of FandB businesses closing down this year will increase without government help. »

A number of West Didsbury businesses have closed in recent weeks

A number of West Didsbury businesses have closed in recent weeks (Image: Manchester Evening News)

« While the pandemic wasn’t the start of high streets’ troubles, and the hospitality sector which largely sits within it, but we can certainly look back on it as a significant moment in time. Footfall dried up overnight, lasted for months, and has never returned to pre-pandemic levels. »

He said while working from home has had a prolonged impact on the day-time economy, but he blamed the compounding issue as being consumer spending with incomes falling sharply.

He added: « It’s a double whammy for high street businesses though because they’re also affected by both interests rate rises and energy, but in different ways. Many took on debt to survive the pandemic, so they’re now finding that to refinance those debts it’s become unaffordable.

« Then there’s energy prices. Businesses aren’t protected by the energy cap like households are, and businesses are also big consumers of energy. »

« Your average hospitality worker doing a 45 hour week, which is pretty normal in the sector, will be earning nearly 27k a year that’s more than a first year police officer. For these small businesses that’s a real problem. Your average price of a pint is about to go ballistic. »

« So, you add all this together and you can see why the sector is in a pickle. That’s why FSB is lobbying the Government to do much more to help small firms. »

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