Blackpool's oldest family run rock shop for sale

The oldest family run Blackpool rock shop is up for sale '“ with its owners blaming plummeting takings and skyrocketing business rates.

Friday, 27th July 2018, 6:25 am
Updated Monday, 30th July 2018, 10:18 am
Geoff and Margaret Race are closing Blackwoods in Blackpool town centre

Blackwoods in Coronation Street in the town centre has been a popular shop for locals and tourists alike over the past 75 years, but a ‘for sale’ sign has now gone up.

Owners Geoff Race, 74, and his wife Margaret, 71, said they have been forced to sell because they simply cannot afford to continue.

Margaret said, because the firm makes its own rock, it is considered to be a large business – with business rates, set by the government and collected by the council, more than doubling from £5,800-a-year in 2008 to £13,560 now.

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“We are clobbered with those rates whether we do business or not,” she said.

Others issues blamed for the shop’s crisis were the partial collapse of the next door Lowery Cafe last year, and a lack of free parking in the town centre.

The outside wall of the cafe partially crumbled last May, with nearby roads temporarily closed because of the safety hazard.

Margaret said: “What has brought everything to a crisis is the empty premises next to us. In May last year, the corner cafe collapsed in the night, and half the building fell away.

“Scaffolding was put up and takings went down by 40 per cent in the immediate aftermath. It’s been an impediment.

“And we have to reinvent the high street and parking is a huge issue.”

Blackpool Council, which made £3.6m profit from car parking charges in 2016/17, last week drew up a blueprint for saving the resort’s struggling high street.

Measures will include controlling “the expansion of edge-of-town retail”, tackling the “scruffy areas of the town centre,” and opening a new food shop in the north of the town.

But Margaret said Blackpool has a lack of free or affordable car parking – and said a park and ride system could work.

“Free one-hour parking is no good,” she said of the on-street parking on several streets. “What can you do in one hour? You can’t even get your hair done.

“If park and ride was offered from the south car parks, dropping off in the town centre, this could be accomplished by two buses, and the ride time would only be 10 minutes maximum, and the price should be pitched attractively.

“You are crying out for help and you get absolutely nothing back. It is a dreadful system and it is devised so the ordinary person can’t win. You just can’t win.”

Geoff, who took over the business from his step-father Robert Blackwood, said of the blueprint: “I see nothing offered in the short terms to help the situation. But the problem is accelerating.”

The couple believe they may have been able to attract more customers if they qualified for a government-funded grant to spruce up their shop.

However, that is only available to shops in Deansgate, Talbot Road, Topping Street, Cookson Street, and Church Street.

Earlier this year, several town centre businesses voiced their concern over the state of the town centre.

Richard Lefton, from Lefton’s Furniture Superstore in General Street, one of the oldest shops in the resort, accused the council of failing to attract shoppers and big name firms – and failing to back retailers.

He said: “If, financially, I could walk away quite well off tomorrow, these doors would be shut, I’m that annoyed, truthfully.

“Over the last probably seven or eight years, it’s become more and more difficult. There’s various issues here. Initially it was out-of-town retail parks, followed by the internet.”

Mr Lefton said he spent £10,000 on the outside of his shop, and applied for a share of the £1m funding set aside for resort stores to improve their property fronts, but also fell outside the catchment area.

Charlie Docherty, chairman of the Central Area Business Forum, yesterday said he has every sympathy for Geoff and Margaret.

He says lack of parking, out of town retail parks, high rates and a change of the bus route have all contributed to Coronation Street’s demise.

He says: “If you are not getting the footfall you are not getting the income to pay very expensive rates but you are still expected to pay them. It’s a vicious circle.

“Like everyone else in the seaside business, you have to make enough money in the season to survive winter months. When footfall falls you don’t make enough to even survive the season let alone the winter.”

Coun Mark Smith, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and economic development, said: “We appreciate that this must be a difficult time for the owners. The decision to close a business is never an easy one.

“We understand that business rates are an issue of great concern to businesses but unfortunately we have no control over them.”

Rates are set nationally by the Government. Coun Smith added that money for improving the town centre was “restricted” and had to be focused in five “priority areas”.

“Coronation Street is unfortunately not one of the target streets for improvement at this time,” he said.

“Ideally, we would have resource to improve all areas but the nature of such funds is a targeted approach is required. The council values independent traders in the town centre and continues to provide assistance through various means.”