Glasses are still half full

Opening of the Layton Raikes pub in Market Street, Blackpool. Pictured is manager Lee Thelwell.
Opening of the Layton Raikes pub in Market Street, Blackpool. Pictured is manager Lee Thelwell.
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PUB and clubland is changing in Blackpool.

And in a big way.

There are multi-million pound venues opening, multi-million pound venues closing.

Pub chains are building venues all over the country, and pub groups selling off stock like there’s no tomorrow.

This year, superclub Syndicate shut as former owner Luminar went the same way as favourite haunt Brannigans in the resort – into administration.

Brannigans owner Cougar Leisure collapsed into administration in January, after pressure from banks to repay its borrowings, a product of the credit crunch, according to its owners.

Yet vodka bar Revolution and pub chain Wetherspoons have been able to invest millions, with bold and brave new drinking holes, while entrepreneur Basil Newby has pledged to invest more than £1m into his In the Pink group’s venues.

The rumour mill has reacted to the changes in its usual way – by going into overdrive.

Whispers abound. Phone calls from concerned pub goers “in the knowledge” about more changes. And some downright untruths.

This week, worried callers told The Gazette The Counting House was to close for months.

The reality, according to owner, the Spirit Pub Company, is different. A spokesman said: “We would like to assure our local community there are no plans to close.

“Due to the seasonality of Blackpool, it may be necessary to reduce midweek opening times to continue as an efficient and profitable venue during winter months. We have recently been granted a licence to allow the pub to stay open until 3am at weekends.”

So why the panic, whispers and rumours flying around the nightlife scene?

“Because in times like these,” says one disillusioned landlord, “you never know what you’re waking up to.

“I love the trade, I love the punters, and I love my pub. But the ‘pub cos’ are a victim of the economic crisis as much as anyone else. Perhaps even more so.

“They’ve all borrowed money, and money the banks now want back sooner rather than later.

“You could be out of a job in a day thanks to a letter from the bank, a wobble on takings – anything.”

Our landlord doesn’t want to be named – another thing that’s changed in the economic crisis.

“Everyone is so nervy now, so sensitive about the slightest thing,” he added.

Town centre Pubwatch manager Craig Southall, from Yates, said pressure from banks on the big firms was the reason for the merry go-round.

He said: “It’s about the profit. Big pub companies acquire a lot of pubs, take the ones not making much money, put them into a separate company, and sell them on.

“There are still a lot of pubs out there making a lot of money – and it’s all down to standards and value for money – getting the offer right for customers.”

JD Wetherspoon has just opened a £2.3m development Layton Rakes pub on Market street, and has exchanged contracts on the purchase of the Hansom Cab pub in Lytham, a deal which is yet to be completed.

Rakes manager Lee Thelwell is full of pride and enthusiasm for his new venue.

He said: “There’s definitely investment going on in Blackpool.

“We’re really happy with the pub – it represents a lot of money from Wetherspoon and is good for the resort. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of locals.”

Despite reports of 50 British boozers a week closing, due it is said to cheap supermarket drink and high taxes for publicans, large pub cos still see big profits out there.

Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon added: “Our pubs appeal to a cross-section of people, and we believe the key to our pub’s success is offering a friendly well-run pub, with good food and drink at value for money prices.”

Greene King, owner of Lytham’s Taps hostelry among others, has announced plans to take on 150 new premises in the next three years, creating 3,000 jobs.

It is ‘wet’ sales that are key to growing in the pub world, according to the group.

A spokesman for pub chain Marston’s agreed, revealing the firm would open 25 pubs next year, creating 1,000 jobs, thanks to its food offering – customers spending an average £6.10 on the 26 million meals it sold last year.

Lytham’s Hastings Eating and Drinking House is one venue on the market for the princely sum of £1.1m for its freehold and contents.

It is being sold as a successful business, and will continue to trade with the same staff, menus and ambience. What will the rumours mill turn that story into?

Another whisper emerges – Wetherspoons is set to take a second pub in Lytham – The Station.

Everyone knows it’s the type of historic building the pub group admires.

It’s a done deal. People have been seen. Someone knows an insider at the group.

Except nothing could be further from the truth.

Aware of the premises, Eddie said it’s simply not of interest to the company.

The rumour mill will carry on turning it seems – a Catch-22 situation that feeds on the worry of workers, the glee of the ill-informed, and the fear of the current economic climate.