Most people will have heard the good news that the Dulwich Estate has come to an agreement with pub operator Fullers to reopen the Half Moon Pub later this year. We now just need the work on the Crown and Greyhound to be finished and for that to re-open as well.
The well-advertised move of the Dulwich Post Office to Rumsey, the chemist, has been smooth - though we do not yet know who will take over the old unit next to the paper shop, but in Herne Hill things are less optimistic. Just Williams, the toy shop in Herne Hill, closed its doors on the 24th January. The reason given initially was that the Dulwich Estate, its landlord, had raised the rent level to renew the lease by 70%. There was a highly critical article on the Herne Hill Forum website and a considerable number of negative comments on other internet forums and Twitter - and an on-line petition asking the DE to reconsider the rent hike was set up at the beginning of January. By the end of the month, it had over 1700 signatures. The Dulwich Estate responded quickly with a factual note which suggested a much lower increase and a rather different scenario on the rent negotiation, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole story was the impact of social media - the Dulwich Estate could not ignore the reputational damage that can arise from it, and had to respond in a much more informative way than normal.
It is no secret that the Estate, like any landlord, is looking to raise its shop rents on both review and renewal - there are rumours of 50% increases in the northern part of Dulwich Village, and this is despite the substantial reduction in footfall following the opening of Gail’s and the temporary closure of the Crown and Greyhound. The maxim on local shopping is ‘use it or lose it’, and if business is down, and residents are not using the shops, is it just a temporary blip or is it that the mix is not right? Or is it a more fundamental structural change in that much of what you could buy there can be bought more easily and cheaper on line - and delivered directly to your home? To increase rents in this situation would seem to be counter intuitive.
One outcome could be more national chains, particularly restaurants and coffee shops, coming into the area (as they can afford the higher rents perhaps) - there is a substantial minority of residents against the arrival of Sainsbury’s, but is this a sign of things to come? The proof of course is in the letting. If the Estate can secure new tenants for the shops at higher rents they will do so - but if they can’t we may be back to the early 1990s, when the Village looked very sad - with a large number of vacant units.