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One of the most significant changes brought about by the 2005 Licensing Act was making it much easier to open new bars, as there was no longer any requirement to demonstrate “need”. The bandwagon was maybe a bit slow to start rolling, but once we emerged from the recession we have seen café-bars, wine bars, craft beer bars and micropubs springing up all over the place. It’s maybe something that wasn’t really expected, but it’s rapidly transforming the drinking landscape.
One particular variety that is proving increasingly popular is the combined bottle shop and bar, of which we now have three just in my neck of the woods in the Heatons area of Stockport. The one pictured is Heaton Hops. I have to say they’re not my top choice of drinking spots, but that’s entirely due to the lack of space and of comfortable seating, and there’s nothing wrong with the welcome or the beer quality. They all appear to be doing well and are a welcome increase in choice and diversity.
However, it seems that not everyone is quite so happy. The Publican’s Morning Advertiser recently published an article entitled Are bottle shops a bigger threat than supermarkets for pubs? Surely a classic example of a “Question to which the answer is No”! It quotes one licensee as saying that a bottle shop was “wiping the floor” with nearby pubs. “It sets a precedent. Anyone in any town can take a shop and think they can turn it into a bar as well.” Isn’t that sort of the point?
He went on to suggest that the said venue didn’t even have the proper licence, which really does smack of hysteria. Yes, an off-licence can offer small tasters to customers, but as soon as they start selling drink for consumption on the premise they need an on-licence. If any tried to trade without one, the council would rapidly come down on them like a ton of bricks.
This all comes across as just a case of sour grapes. If you’re faced with competition, the best response is to up your own game rather than moaning about how life is unfair. I’m not convinced that they’re significantly undercutting pubs – indeed the ones in my local area charge much the same as nearby pubs, if not a bit more. If you’re worried about price competition, then surely Wetherspoons are a much bigger threat.
And, in any case, small wet-only bars only compete with pubs across a small range of their offer. They don’t provide food, music or TV sport. To the pub trade in general they’re no more than a pinprick on an elephant’s backside, but some people are always looking for someone else to blame. There’s also nothing to stop pubs selling bottles to take home and offering carryouts of draught beer. Maybe it’s time that side of the trade made a comeback.