Back in April news quickly circulated about about a humble Beer shop called Seven Cellars, their Co-Op store neighbours, and this petition
It spread through social media and in 3 weeks surged to 8000 signatures, as individuals swelled with anger and threw their support behind this independent local business and their David vs. Goliath situation
Brighton Beer Blog interview Louise Oliver, founder of Seven Cellars to meet the lady behind the business, find out what lead to the petition and hear what the situation is currently
We also share statements from the Co-Op, plus Brighton Pavilion MP, Caroline Lucas’ office offer suggestions for what we can do to keep up the pressure
Note from the Author:
If like me, you signed the online petition earlier in the year and thought that that was job done, that the Co-Op have acknowledged your objection, then assume that it isn’t and that they haven’t.
As it stands the Co-Op plan to evict Seven Cellars and Latina at the end of their leases in 2025. It is their intention, as shown in statements below, to expand into those stores, closing them down, and in so doing will operate 2 similarly sized Co-Op stores a minute’s walk from each other. Why they need both? No one will explain to me.
If you feel strongly about maintaining an independent presence on the high-street, and want to support the businesses that make our communities characterful and unique, please do follow up with the action suggested below the interview. Thank you, from Dave (BBB)
Hi Louise, lets give everyone an introduction to you.
I’m Louise. I own Seven Cellars which is an off licence at the Dials in Brighton, We’ve been there for 7 years. Before that I went to Plumpton College and got a wine degree as a mature student. I’ve always been in retail.
And was this the first store you’d opened as Seven Cellars, here on Seven Dials?
Yes. Opened it here on the Dials. I just saw it, completely fell in love with the location. Loved the look of the store, it’s so old fashioned, having been there since 1841. The history and the vibe there just felt absolutely perfect for the shop I had in mind to open. The business is named after Seven Dials location, and so it’s rooted here and we want to be here.
What was your grand vision for the shop then and how has it panned out?
The grand vision was to have a bit of an Aladdin’s cave really. My main inspiration is this amazing guy called Gerry, who has ‘Gerry’s’ on Old Compton Street in London. I went there first time about 25-30 years ago, and was just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of different spirits from every corner of the world. I just had this pang of that’s what a shop should be.
So give us an overview of the situation that lead to you releasing your online petition.
So, when I found the shop, the landlord, Bob, was great and allowed me the opportunity to get a licence and was quite understanding and caring, or so I thought. He called me Christmas 2020 and said, the Co-Op want to buy my lease, how do I feel about it? I said absolutely not, I don’t want to sell.
He said ok, it’s fine, I look after the small people, the little guys, then a week later I got a call saying, actually I’ve sold your lease.
It’s perfectly legal, he sold the overarching lease, something I didn’t know even existed as I thought my lease was my lease.
So the Co-Op have bought a 15 year lease for their building, for Latina cafe next door, and for mine. The whole lot they paid £1.5 million pounds for, according to the landlord anyway as that’s what he told me.
So effectively the Co-Op are now my landlord. That was devastating to me, the first I knew about it this guy from a fancy property company, AGL on Saville Row, got in touch and said we want to come and measure up. This was obviously a horrible shock. They sent round a structural engineer and architect, ferreting around in the cellar, writing down numbers, apparently figuring out how much it was going to cost to expand the Co-Op into these premises.
Making a move like that seems like full steam ahead doesn’t it..
Well in April I got an email the fancy guy in London to say, ‘Yes, that is their intention, to move in, they are going to ask you to leave, but we don’t want to deal with this now, we are going to leave you for another 18 months’. So we are essentially holding a holding space, they don’t want to make any decisions, they don’t want to offer us any money to leave, they don’t want to help us, they just want to keep us hanging.
..and paying rent..
Obviously paying rent. (laughter) but the problem is businesses need to plan. If we are going to have to leave then there are certain things we need to do like find a new premises, and we’re not getting any clarity.
But I want to stay in Seven Dials as we’ve spent the last 7 years with our customer base, enjoying those people, getting to know those people. The people of Seven Dials have been brilliant, so supportive. From day one people have been saying how happy they are we’re there.
So they are effectively leaving you in limbo?
Yeah, and that’s when I got annoyed and that’s when I started the petition. (laughter) I was in a fit of anger, I was so cross. (laughter) So I wrote back to the fancy guy in London and said, ‘This is outrageous, here’s a link to my petition and I hope you’ll sign it as any right minded person should’ (laughter). and he wasn’t very happy, especially as we got about 5000 signatures in 2 days.
So what were the aims of the petition? Was it just about media coverage?
Well yeah, that did work. We had a journalist contact us from the Brighton and Hove Independent, and then the Argus, which was really really embarrassing (laughter) I just got Christie from the shop to take a photo and sent that off to Brighton Independent, and little did I know that it would make it to the front cover of the Argus. Immediately I went and got my hair cut, an emergency hairdressers afterwards. (laughter)
Then BBC Sussex have got in touch and said they are interested in running the story, but I need to pace it and keep the pressure on. We’ve got 18 months and a lot happened in 3 weeks, 8000 people all getting annoyed and writing to the council, but we need to keep the pace and pressure up.
I spoke to Caroline Lucas, she’s the person who originally put the idea of a petition in my head. She’s also given me the name of the ward councillors who will make a decision on planning permission for the project should it go ahead. The problem is, shops, retail outlets and food places, they have different classes and it’s classed as retail, so there’s no planning permission needed.
A petition in itself isn’t taken that seriously, they tend to think it’s low effort people pulling together in a moment. So they’ll just throw us out at the end of the lease term.
So I guess what people can do is stand up for the way they want the local community to look and feel?
Exactly, Co-Op already have a bloody great big store the other side of the roundabout and they have no plans to close that. So you will have two Co-Ops of similar size occupying a huge space. All we have is people power, to really ram it down the Co-Ops throat, Don’t Do This! You already have a massive Co-Op two minutes down the road.
Yeah, 8000 e-signatures is one thing, but 8000 emails in your inbox is something you have to take notice of, you can’t ignore it.
You have to, and that would be very powerful. People saying we don’t want this, this is a community asset and these shops are important. I think if people are that worried about it and they don’t want this to happen, they have to take action and it’s not for me to tell them what to write or how to do it.
But we will keep going, hopefully in the Dials, but the real issue for me is that the Co-Op are happy to just keep me dangling, along with Adelia in Latina. She’s been there the same amount of time that I have and it’s such a massive community asset, the Portuguese community gather there. It’s such an important space, and really well used. It’s not fair for her to have her business taken either.
I literally scraped by to get this business up and running. I borrowed from family and friends to get the bottles on the shelves. and the people in Seven Dials supported us straight away, it’s such a special place.
So where can people focus their efforts?
Writing to the Co-Op and writing to the Council Wards. (see contact information below)
Finally, has this stopped you shopping at the Co-Op if you used to?
I used to shop at the Co-Op. I live in Kemptown, and interestingly a business next door to Co-Op went bust, or they got rid of them, and it’s still empty 5-6 years later and I would hate for that to happen, to just get rid of the businesses occupying and then not even move in.
I have it on good authority they’ve tried it in Five Ways. It’s their modus operandi, they’ve got a shop in a nice residential area, and then they encroach either side.
It’s like being assimilated by one of those dahleks or something..
Like a Borg? (laughter)
Yes haha a Co-Op Borg. They are trying it in Five Ways but the landlord told them no, but then doubled the rent on the lady who owned the shop next door. Then there’s another shop in Peacehaven, that’s how they get these big stores.
But what mystifies me is, why 2 shops within 200 metres of each other?
Well perhaps your readers can tell you. Do you shop on one side of the Dials, but would never ever darken the door of the Co-Op on the other side?? (laughter)
Yeah, are you always just too busy to cross that roundabout? Well thank you so much Louise, and all the very best.
What the Co-Op had to say..
I contacted the Co-Op for comment, particularly asking how this modus operandi of closing down adjacent independent businesses is in keeping with their ‘supporting the community’ brand message, and the rationale for needing 2 Co-Op stores of similar size within a minute walk of each other..?
I was pointed towards Simon Finlay, in the Co-op Property / Development Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) and after a chase up received this less than satisfactory statement from Press Officer Andrew Torr (email@example.com).
A spokesperson for Co-op property team confirmed:
“Co-op is committed to serving and supporting the local community, including popular local independent businesses. We have had discussions with our neighbours who have leases in place which run until late 2025, and we can confirm that these will be honoured. At this stage we do not have any confirmed plans to extend our Co-op store.”
In Co-Ops reply received by Caroline Lucas’ office, (provided to me both by the Co-Op and Caroline Lucas’ office) from Paul Gerrard, Campaigns and Public Affairs Director, the Co-Op do more openly admit to the ultimate aim of expanding into the 2 shops next door.
…we have engaged directly through our property team and our property partners (AGL London) with the tenants to discuss options. However, we were unable to come to an arrangement with the tenants and the leases for both these properties are due to expire in
We have made the tenants aware that, as a business, the Co-op’s plans are to extend our store into the properties upon the expiry of the lease agreements. This, however, is subject to the ongoing review of our property portfolio and, therefore, concrete plans have not yet been developed and are not expected to be developed until 2023.
However, when I spoke to Louise she said that Co-Op have refused to dialogue with her and that her only option was to wait to be kicked out.
So what can we all do?
People power and keeping up the pressure is the key, so as many people as possible need to contact the Co-Op and their Council Wards directly and make their voice heard.
Caroline Lucas’ Office suggested “writing to Co-Op directly to let them know how you feel this reflects on their brand, as well as ensuring that you submit a comment on the planning application for the store when it is submitted.” in particular “to see whether there are any measures open to BHCC in terms of conserving the area or protecting the diversity of independent businesses”.
Contact the Co-Op
Make the Co-op aware of local opposition and what the potential impact their decision will have on Co-Ops business, both in terms of sales (should you decide to no longer give your business to them) and reputation.
Contacts provided to me by the Co-Op are;
Simon Finlay, Co-op Property / Development Team (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Andrew Torr, Press Officer (email@example.com).
Co-Op Members might also want to include (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Contact your Council Wards
Voicing your objection regarding the expected forthcoming application and asking Council Wards to ‘protect community assets’ in any way they can, and to also contact the Co-Op themselves in opposition, on behalf of the local community.
Here are the Email addresses for the St Peter’s & North Laine Wards.
Finally keep an eye on Brighton & Hove planning Applications so that you can raise your own objection, they can be viewed at this location. We’ll also make it known on our socials when we hear it is live.