Up to 25 shopkeepers on Well Street in Hackney face eviction after refusing to pay significantly increased rents demanded by their landlord.
St John Hackney Joint Estates Charities, which owns the buildings on the south side of Well Street, is seeking to double rents in a hike that spells closure for many of the local traders.
A newsagent, a discount toy shop and a Caribbean grocers have closed down since October, and other business people – including Danny Rao who runs the post office on the street and George Edwards, proprietor of a health foods shop – say they cannot continue trading if the increased rents are imposed.
“They want to increase my annual rent from £5,000 to £9,000,” said Rao. “If that happens, I’ll have to close down. And if I close down, half the street is going to be dead.”
Meanwhile Edwards’ annual rent is being raised from £6,500 to more than £18,000. Most of the shop leases on the charity’s estate expired seven years ago and “rents hadn’t gone up for a long time” according to Terry O’Mahoney, who runs TJ’s Hair Salon.
“They got a new agent and he told them they could get more. They want to double the rent now,” he said.
Leo Bissington, who runs a second-hand clothing store on the north side of the street, rents his shop from a private landlord and will not be facing a significant increase, but is eager to stand up to what he sees as “the poncification” of the area.
“The management of the trust have realised that they can get more money – they see places like Broadway Market and they think Well Street could be like that,” he said.
“But I’m surrounded by council flats, not yummy mummies. Most people are on benefits. They don’t want a row of cake shops that sell buns for £6.”
Geoff Taylor from the charity said it could not “subsidise” businesses.
“It’s a business transaction, these are businesses, we have to act in a commercial business-like way and it has to be done in a commercial way and we have to charge market rents,” he said.
But Hackney councillor Ian Rathbone spoke out against the charity’s actions: “It is a shame that a charity, which has given money to the poor of Hackney, has become so unforgiving when it comes to the treatment of its own poor tenants.”
Meg Hillier, Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, has also asked the trust to reconsider the proposed rent increases.
Well Street was once home to a thriving street market and Tesco founder Jack Cohen began his retail career there in 1919, but the arrival of big supermarkets and increased charges from the council have been blamed for its demise.