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1:02pm on Saturday, 20th April, 2019:



Oh no! Minerva has shut!

Minerva was the Belgian chocolate shop in Colchester. I used to go there three or four times a year to buy stuff for my wife. They did really good chocolates, imported weekly from Belgium because the owner was Belgian. Augh! Where am I going to get high-end chocolates in Colchester now?

This is one of the few kinds of physical shops that isn't hurt by competition from the Internet. You can't really send chocs containing fresh cream through the post. What did for it was the business rates, which are punishingly high. Councils need money from the business rates, but they set the rates too high for businesses to pay, so the businesses close and then the councils need even more money from the ones that are still profitable, to make up for the ones they lose.

I remember when Minerva opened. It joins a long line of traditional shops that have been edged out of Colchester town centre by the cost of running a physical store. It's not just the business rates, either. Some shops do close because of the Internet; the landlords need more income to pay their mortgages; the landlords raise the rents on the other properties they own to try cover their debts; the other shops can now no longer afford the rents so they close as well; the landlords now need even more money.

The only businesses that seem to be thriving in town are cafés, restaurants, clothes shops, hairdressers and nail bars. The first two only work if people go to town for other reasons. The last two aren't things people do often enough to sustain the first two. Basically, it's only clothes shops that are keeping Colchester town centre viable. Everything else, you can get from a supermarket or Amazon.

If there isn't a shake-up soon in the way that consumer-facing businesses are taxed, town centres are going to lose critical mass. We probably ought to decide whether that's a good thing or a bad thing before it happens anyway.

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Copyright © 2019 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).