Arbol house have announced the closure of their Northgate street store with a shift to online trading operating out of a warehouse in Deeside. Co-owner Bartek Ostojski excited about the new start, spoke to us about the reasons for the move and the current trading situation on Northgate street.
Having opened in Northgate street over 5 years ago, Bartek says that the move from the old location on Rufus Court was positive. “It wasn’t a great location for us. Perhaps we didn’t really get on with our landlords…” he says.
“Northgate street wasn’t bad for us at all. We had good neighbours, I can’t complain. The footfall wasn’t too bad. When you look at the range of our products we couldn’t be in a better location. Its independent and a bit different. Back then the online business was an addition to the shop. We had the shop, two levels above the shop for computers and storage, and it was Ok. We realised a couple of years ago that our online operation was too big to operate from where we were. Hence we had to hire some warehouses outside of Chester , we still have them and our stock is in different locations and hard to manage. The conclusion was that our shop was not covering the costs if you exclude the cash flow from the online, the shop wouldn’t stand on its own feet. We can operate from somewhere else, somewhere cheaper without any rates and be more profitable. At the end of the day we are a business. ”
Northgate street has been rocked by closures in the last 6 months, with Mountfords newsagents, Radio Shack, Rococo chocolates and now Ginger. “That’s sad. They were still buying from us a couple of weeks ago. Nothing was giving me any suspicions that they were closing.” With noted Northgate campaigner, Rod Cox favouring pedestrianisation of the street and visions of Bohemian open air seating, I asked Bartek if this was the answer to regenerating the street.
“I don’t think so” he replies quickly. “Its a trading street and the businesses need access . We would never make any money in the shop because customers want access by car . They come and stop for a few minutes and collect their items. Otherwise they would just buy online.
“I think ultimately its going to be full of restaurants cafes and bars. ” Responding to the claims that the movement of the bus station has affected trade he replies: “I didn’t notice any less trade since they moved the bus exchange. There was no impact on us, but we see less people in our street. After they opened Storyhouse you would expect more footfall. But people who are going to the Storyhouse are not buying from our shop but they are potential customers for our online business. ”
“I love Chester and I love Northgate street. We moved to the UK 9 years ago and we could have gone anywhere in the UK, we chose Chester for a reason. It has this charm, it was previously a shopping destination. Around Christmas it still has the charm. It hasn’t lost the charm but its less of a shopping place to visit now unfortunately. Its for a mix of reasons, the economy has an impact if people have less money. The internet , especially in our sector, people are more aware of their power as purchasers. We have people coming in the shop and comparing online products we sell with other retailers. They make very educated decisions and its a very competitive market. The future is online in our business. 75-80% of our customers are from the London area, so being on Chester high street is not an advantage to me as a retailer. ”
Of the ongoing and apparently delayed Northgate development, Bartek remains sceptical: ” I dont think it will happen in the form that’s being promised. Will House of Fraser open in this location given what’s happening with them?
“We have to move on with the times. I’m not sure if having more shops to rent out is a good idea or not. If all landlords in Chester get together and work out some sort of offering to small businesses like us, then perhaps we would need 40 more units. But we would need a compromise from landlords on the rent, and then some council influence on lowering the rates. This is what is stopping new businesses from trying out. Landlords want long commitments from us , and the rent is basically too high. Maybe landlords think its better to hold onto empty units for new tenants, who would sign up for 25 years. Maybe they’re waiting for a good tenant to come, it might happen, it might not. Maybe they have so much money that its nothing to them. ”
“You can’t blame Chester its the same everywhere in the UK. Chester is still the same great place but everything changes, we have to adjust. ” Bartek cites the changes made to the market as evidence of this with philosophy with the introduction of some popular new food traders including Stile Napoletano and Thai for Thai. “I like Chester market much more than I used to.
Waving a sad goodbye to Northgate street, and paying tribute to staff, friends and neighbours, the experienced retailer says : “We are not going away, we are changing our business model” Goodbye Arbol, you will be missed!
Arbol House will be closing their store at the end of April and continuing online at