Yorkshire landlords speak out after popular pub closure as rising prices pose 'real dilemma'
Landlords in Hull have spoken about the challenges facing venues after the sad closure of the prominent New Clarence pub in the city centre, where the landlord said the hospitality industry was “on its knees”.
Tony Garrett, the landlord of the award-winning Hop and Vine real ale pub in Albion Street, said the loss of the New Clarence was bad news for traders in their part of the city, where a difficult climate prevails.
Having a cluster of pubs in one area attracts drinkers who enjoy visiting several venues, he added.
His own bar has a stellar reputation and benefits from offering customers a rare selection of beers and spirits. But he said he would welcome new pubs opening nearby.
Meanwhile, fellow landlord Dennis Wann, of The Sailmakers Arms in Hull’s Old Town, said a rise in visitors was giving him hope – but it was yet to be seen whether custom would ever return to pre-Covid levels.
Their views come after reports offered a mixed picture for the hospitality sector.
New analysis has shown that retailers and high streets are among the hardest-hit sectors nationally for insolvencies, which have more than doubled in Hull from 2019 to last year.
But figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also showed spending in pubs and other hospitality businesses helped drive GDP growth to 0.2 per cent in April, staving off fears of a recession.
Mr Garrett said the Hop and Vine, in Albion Street, had had a good year so far, with a rise in customers – and it benefited from a fixed-rate energy deal. But he warned that the loss of The New Clarence could have a knock on effect on other venues in their part of the city centre.
The bar owner said: “I know The New Clarence and a lot of others have been affected by rising energy bills. I’m really sad for The New Clarence, having us all here as a group of pubs gives people a reason to come to this part of town. We’re not on the Old Town route or the Avenues route, but we’re on the theatre route which gives us some trade.
“And having a few pubs here is good because when people come to an area they like to go to a selection of bars, I’d want two or three more bars here. So losing The New Clarence is bad news.
“I think one of the reasons the Hop and Vine does well is because we try and offer things that people can’t get anywhere else like spirits and things from abroad or Derbyshire and Shropshire beers. At the moment I haven’t seen the cost of living crisis affect us too much in terms of customers but I’m aware that some of them have their own issues because of it.”
Mr Garrett added: “But brewers are having problems now because since before the cost of living crisis they’ve been trying to absorb their price increases. We’re starting to see some like Kelham Island Brewery and Black Sheep go under, so they’re no longer able to absorb rising costs, so they have to pass them on to us.
“That means we either have to absorb the prices or pass them onto our customers. I know some places are already selling pints of beer for £5.50 or £6, that might become the norm, but will enough people be prepared to pay them?
“That’s the real dilemma, we’ve got to balance it. I think hospitality businesses across the country have been hit badly. We’ve lost a number of pubs as well, though I don’t think it’s been as bad here in Hull.
“If the shops go that could hit our daytime trade, because people like to go to the shops then pop in for a tea or coffee or cider afterwards, so if retail’s hit then we get hit. But our main trade is the nighttime trade – that brings in most of the money for pubs.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen, my tendency is to be pessimistic. It might be that things pick up in a couple of years or so. It all goes back to politics and how the economy goes, how people are affected by their mortgage rates and the prices in the shops. But it doesn’t look like it’s getting better.”
At the Sailmakers Arms in High Street, landlord Mr Wann said he was offered the chance to take on The New Clarence in around about 2016, but turned it down due to Hull New Theatre being closed at the time for refurbishment linked to the City of Culture award. The landlord, who also runs Ye Olde Black Boy, said the Clarence had been a victim of people cutting back on going out.
He added: “I hope Ian from The New Clarence will start up again somewhere else, he’s a great guy and a good landlord and he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, it’s just the way people’s budgets have changed.
“More people will sit at home with a bottle of wine with their partner now, they don’t have the money to go and sit in a pub for three or four hours as often as they used to. It’s been a difficult year, definitely, the energy bills for The Sailmakers have gone up to more than £800 a week – that’s more than double what it was before the prices went up.”
For decades, the Sailmakers has been known for its attractive courtyard – a popular beer garden in the summer months. Mr Wann added: “Demand has been hit for us to an extent as well, but there are some shoots of recovery coming through too. Hospitality has been responsible for the majority of economic growth recently and as business has stabilised it has given people confidence.
“A pub in the city centre’s different from the local on an estate, but for us at least we’re very busy at the weekend, and on weekdays we do well because of our courtyard. It’s been difficult for landlords for the last couple of years – we’ve absorbed as much of the price increases as we can.
“But I think most people understand pubs don’t make a fortune and most of what we make goes back into the business. We’ve been working harder for a lot less, but we’re still here, there’s not a lot to show after it all, but hopefully things will get better.”
Mr Wann said: “We’ve just renewed our contract on the lease for The Sailmakers for the next five years, that partly because we want to stay here and it’s also because of how much it’s cost for us in the last two years – we want to try and make it back. We have to be very clever with the way we invest now; for instance, I want to replace all the outdoor furniture here and I’ve had to save up for about three months to buy it.
“Before, I could have made that investment a lot more quickly, but these days we have to be more circumspect. Despite everything, I am optimistic. People’s confidence in coming out to the pubs is growing and you can see that in the growth figures.
“We’ve seen more functions like weddings, birthdays and work dos coming back. People have been catching up on what they missed out on because of coronaviurs. But at the same time we had people building bars in their back gardens during coronavirus and at this time of year the weather has an effect because people tend to go to the beach.
“I don’t think things will ever be as good as they were before coronavirus. It’s a different world that we’re living in, but hopefully things will get better.”