New East End trades guild battles for small shops’ survival

Small traders and shopkeepers battling for survival against big businesses and rocketing rents which are threatening their livelihood are launching a trades guild in London’s economically-depressed East End.

More than 30 traders who turned up to a steering meeting at the Bishopsgate Institute last night voted to set up the guild to lobby local authorities for more low-cost trading zones and to negotiate “fairer commercial rents”.

Guild founder Paul Gardner, 57, a Spitalfields paper merchant whose family has traded in Commercial Street since 1870, depends on small businesses in the area to survive.

“All my trade customers are worried by rent increases as much as 70 per cent,” he told the Advertiser.

“It’s a struggle that will get worse. Craft shops and others who can’t afford unrealistic rents would go under.

“I can’t see my own business carrying on—I could be the last of the line after four generations here.”

The traders are worried by encroachment from franchises and chain stores spilling into City Fringe neighbourhoods like Spitalfields which is already seeing rocketing rents.

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London Citizens’ volunteer leader Krissie Nicolson, who set up last night’s meeting after a year of research into the traders’ issues, said: “They will be swept away unless they work together to build a power base.

“There’s a lot of anger and passion that needs to create a lobby to represent and act in the interests of the East End’s small traders.”

One shop in Spitalfields Market was let recently for �90,000 a year—the independent shops were now worried about rents shooting beyond what they can afford, she pointed out.

Some traders forced to move further north to Cheshire Street found high rents now following them to this once-quiet backwater off Brick Lane, forcing several shops even here to remain empty.

“It wasn’t sustainable and didn’t work in landlords’ favour or for the community,” added Krissie. “Despite this, property values have gone crazy in the East End. Small businesses are now at risk everywhere.”

The new guild expects to attract 200 businesses from Spitalfields, Whitechapel Bethnal Green and Shoreditch to its first assembly in September being held at Christ Church in Commercial Street.