Brighton-based business Bagelman is facing eviction from Brighton Railway Station, following a difficult pandemic which saw it unable to keep up with the necessary rent payments and fall into debt, which they say they can now pay, writes Chris Bratt.
As it stands, the award-winning bagel shop will be forced to close its doors at the station this Thursday (April 14), although it will continue to operate at its other two locations in Bond Street and Church Road.
Managing director, Jo Prior, has launched a petition to convince Govia Thameslink Railway to extend this notice period and reopen negotiations for another lease. At the time of publication, around 2,600 signatures have been collected.
There’s a lack of care and concern for the fact that there are eight people working in that shop.
A lot of them worked through the pandemic, serving passengers and visitors to the station, at personal risk to their own health.
We’ve all just been through a great trauma. We’ve come through the other side. The business is good and strong and entering a period of recovery.
This should be the point in time where we all breathe and feel safe and secure in our jobs and our homes. And yet this has happened.
It’s just so immoral and unfair.
According to Companies House, Bagelman had been experiencing financial difficulties prior to the pandemic, owing more than £80,000 to HMRC alongside a number of other creditors, although an agreement had been reached that was meant to see the company repay these debts on a monthly basis.
When COVID-19 hit, this plan was scuppered and last month, Bagelman Limited briefly entered administration. Prior was able to secure new investment at this stage, leading to the business being purchased by another company under the same management, albeit with new funds available to tackle some of the outstanding debts.
According to Prior, GTR had originally suggested via a phone call that a new lease would be possible if the rent arrears were paid in full, which she’d agreed to. Just two weeks later, Bagelman was served an eviction notice that gave the company only 14 days to leave the premises. Prior described this moment as “a huge, huge shock”.
Govia Thameslink Railway claims not to have been made aware of the extent of Bagelman’s financial troubles during that original phone call.
David Gornall, GTR’s commercial director, said:
We have been very sympathetic to Bagelman Limited during the pandemic, agreeing a substantial discount on its rent and continuing its tenancy through three periods when it fell into arrears.
However, the company has now gone into administration with significant debts, and we are not prepared to risk granting a tenancy to this particular business given its relationship with, and the rent arrears history of, Bagelman Limited.
Prior responded that even if this decision is final, giving Bagelman just 14 days to leave the station after the shop has been there for nearly seven years seems 'needlessly harsh'.
Ideally, I would love for them to give us a lease and for us to continue trading from the station.
If that’s not going to happen, then the next best thing for us would just be more time.
We’ll move out and find another shop, but give us time to do that, please.
Local residents who’ve signed Bagelman’s petition have left dozens of comments, with many expressing their concern that this locally-run shop will now be replaced by a larger, faceless corporation.
In the recent Bravo Awards, Bagelman was voted in the top 3 of the Good To Go category and in the top 5 of the Best For The Family category—both based on public votes.
Prior says the unit was advertised before management could speak to staff, showing a 'complete disregard by GTR for the mental health and wellbeing' of staff, many of whom worked through the pandemic.
She says it is 'utterly soul destroying that we might have to tell them that they will lose their jobs now, just at the point in time we had turned a corner and the business was entering a period of recovery'.
When you spend money in a local shop, that money stays in the community.
We’re a local family, we rent a house, our kids go to the local schools. We spend our money in other local businesses on music lessons and football clubs.
It’s just so important for everyone to keep supporting independent business, particularly in Brighton.
Update: as of Tuesday 12th April, Bagelman has published the following update on the petition:
We can confirm we have just been offered an extension to 12 May. We are taking legal advice on the terms offered and we will update you again shortly. In the meantime, we can confirm that we have been told that GTR is willing to grant a four week extension to the current arrangements so as to provide a suitable window for us to secure an alternative trading location.
We have already found an exciting potential new location for our Brighton Station store, which we hope will be relocated nearby and as soon as we have signed a new lease, we will be telling everyone where to find us.
At the end of last year, a new investor came on board and we believe Bagelman has an exciting year ahead of it. Our recovery has been stronger than we expected and we are looking forward to expanding further into Brighton and into Lewes and Worthing. If any private landlords have a commercial space to rent and want to support the much-loved Bagelman brand, please do get in touch.
Independent businesses like Bagelman are the lifeblood of our community. The response to our petition has shown that now, more than ever, local people, particularly in Brighton, want local businesses, not faceless conglomerates. Generally, small employers care more about their staff and the environment. We pay our taxes and any small amount of profit we make goes straight back into the local community instead of being siphoned offshore.
Thank you for your ongoing support.
Chris Bratt is a local journalist, known best for his work covering the video games industry with People Make Games.