Small businesses being “forced out” of Spitalfields

Independent businesses warn they are being “strangled” and forced out of east London’s most vibrant shopping area because rents have doubled in recent months.

This year has seen an exodus of small businesses from Spitalfields and Bethnal Green and some shop owners are now accusing “insanely greedy” landlords of risking the future of the area.

Music store the Duke of Uke – London’s only dedicated ukulele shop – is the latest to buckle under the pressure after its landlord increased rent from �12,500 a year in 2006 to �20,000.

It is closing on July 19.

The shop’s founder Matthew Reynolds said: “There are some insanely greedy landlords out there. It’s all these independent shops who have contributed to the atmosphere of the area and made it into a place where people want to come.

“We are now being strangled. I don’t make a huge profit. The shop has always been about providing a good service.”

Another fashion shop in Cheshire Street has just had its yearly rent raised from �16,000 to �39,000.

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Katy Hackney, whose co-run crafts shops Shelf left Cheshire Street in March, agreed the area is changing, and said: “I think rents have got out of hand.”

Independent shops owners are so concerned about the new financial pressures they are rallying together to lobby the government and local powers to place more restrictions on the commercial rental market.

Community group Shoreditch Citizens has been spoken to many businesses in the area and said shops are “very concerned”.

Krissie Nicolson, community organiser, said: “Businesses which have been there for years are being kicked out by large corporations prepared to pay landlords extortionate rents.”

The group has set up Friends of Shoreditch Citizens to raise awareness about the pressures.

But one commercial property owner said landlords are only responding to the market.

Pearl and Coutts has let business units in Spitalfields for around 25 years and owns many properties.

Richard Doffman, from the commercial properties department, said: “Rents have gone up but they haven’t doubled. It’s not true that landlords are forcing rents up – it’s the market that does that as it’s what people are prepared to pay. The demand is still strong from independents.”

Meanwhile the Duke of Uke has set up a campaign including a fundraising gig and t-shirt sale to raise cash for the store to relocate to another part of the East End.

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