This post by Woolpack Dave has got me thinking about pub closures.
We regularly see the scary statistic "52 pubs closing every week". Or 36, or 19. Whatever the number is, it signifies some sort of change or upheaval in Britain's socialising habits. Costs for pubs have increased and notably the historical core of the pub business – blokes drinking lots of pints – looks fragile.
Ten years ago my brother and I were in the midst of a two year search for premises for our own beer evangelism business (please overlook the ghastly photograph, it was a much nicer place than the image might suggest). Steve and I love pubs. What we really wanted was a pub but it quickly became apparent that to do what we wanted – to sell what might termed the esoterica of the beer world – our chance of finding a pub in which to do it was zero.
The essential requirement was that whatever premises we took on it would have to be free-of-tie. To buy the freehold of a pub was way out of our budget. Free-of-tie pub tenancies and leases in London are conspicuous by their almost complete absence. So we had no choice we had to look for premises other than pubs. That's why we ended up adapting a former furniture shop.
But what had we created? People socialised, drank beer and ate food in convivial environment. A pub, in all but name. But no, the appropriate description was "a bar".
Had we been doing this now, would our business count as a pub opening? Are pub closure statistics limited to the bricks and mortar bearing the name "pub"? Are the statistics neglecting new business that are pubs in all but name? I suspect there are many others who have experienced the problem we had.
But why does that problem exist?
Obvious really. The structure of the pub industry. Pub companies owning thousands of pubs. Sure you can get your hands on a pub: but it will have to be tied. Wave goodbye to your local market knowledge, your specialist skills, your ability to innovate. Or go for a bar or cafe.
I feel sad when I see boarded-up pubs; I feel happy when enterprising people are opening bars and cafes. There's no short of people willing to invest in and run food/drink/conviviality businesses only pubs are off-limits because of the structure of the pub industry and its weapon of mass-destruction, the tie system.
If the stranglehold on the pub trade was loosened would the picture be rosier? Would the likes of Microbar, North Bar, the Rake and countless others, beer-focused or not, be thriving pubs? I think so.