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23-11-2013, 12:18
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Until a few years ago, I would always have said that the family brewers were more committed to holding on to their pubs than the pub companies were. Yes, the occasional no-hoper would be let go, such as Robinson’s Church in Edgeley, but often you would see tied houses still in business when around them several pub company properties were closed and boarded.
However, recently things seem to have changed, as a new, more commercially-minded generation comes to the fore and the cold winds of the recession and the general decline of the pub trade have started to bite. I know that to varying degrees Holts, Hydes and Lees have all become keener to dispose of under-performing pubs, but it is Robinson’s cull that is most obvious as they had more pubs to start with, and a large concentration in and around Stockport. Over the past two or three years I would say they have sold off at least an eighth of the pubs they had before.
I recently mentioned the Wanted Inn at Sparrowpit (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/unwanted-inn.html) which is typical of quite a few pubs in their rural estate. In central Stockport, we have lost the Royal Oak near the brewery, the Grapes in Edgeley, the Bull’s Head on the Market Place, the Flying Dutchman on Hillgate and Cobdens and the Unity on Wellington Road South. The much-loved Tiviot closed only last weekend. In the suburbs, pubs like the Horsfield Arms outside the Robinson’s packaging plant, the Pineapple in Marple, the Lowes Arms in Woodley and the Grove, Royal Oak and Woodman in Hazel Grove have gone. Macclesfield has seen a similar cull to central Stockport. And I could (but won’t) name at least three more within a mile of the town centre which, on recent evidence, do not look long for this world.
I also recently spotted that the Masons Arms in Denton (pictured) had been de-signed. This is a pub on a prominent main road site, with a car park, and plenty of nearby housing, much of it owner-occupied, so on the face of it would not obviously appear to be unviable.
In the past, many family brewers felt a sense of responsibility towards their community which led them to keep pubs open that were of only marginal viability. However, at the end of the day they are businesses, not charities, and the new generation of Robinsons have taken a long hard look at the company and how it can be taken forward into the future, which has borne fruit in the rebranding of their beers and initiatives like the brewing of Trooper. On the other hand, they have identified that a lot of their pubs were not sufficiently differentiated from each other, and that their estate did have a long tail of nondescript, underperforming pubs that didn’t contribute much to the business overall and in some cases were proving difficult to find tenants for.
It’s sad to see them go, and some have been cracking boozers in their time – particularly the Grapes in Edgeley which was an archetypal street-corner local and for many years a Good Beer Guide stalwart. However, nobody can be unaware of the multiple pressures on the pub trade and you can’t really blame Robinson’s for biting the bullet.
To their credit, I understand that none of these pubs have been sold with restrictive covenants. Some, such as the former Flying Dutchman, now the Fairway, have been bought by new free trade owners, but the majority have either been converted to alternative uses or still stand in a closed and boarded state. I understand there may be moves in the pipeline to bring more of them back to life, which would be a welcome development, but it would be naive to imagine that it’s possible to revive every closed pub with a new management and approach.

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