The owner of one of Leighton’s independent bike shops has announced his decision to close and move his business to Milton Keynes blaming high rent and low footfall – despite having been a loyal shopkeeper for 20 years, writes Amanda Devlin.
Matt Morton, 36, of Middle Green, Leighton Buzzard, says the lease of Chaineys Cycles in Friday Street has come to an end and they will be moving everything from their store into their other existing premises.
Matt, who owns the shop with his wife Kathryn, said: “Cycling is booming, but Leighton Buzzard isn’t. I have tried everything I can to make it work there, but it has made no difference.
“You can never have a shop in Leighton that is big enough to be able to offer the stock that you would like to. The town is renowned for its expense. Only retailers can go in there and be successful. It is irritating, but the footfall is too low and the transport links are designed to get you out of Leighton, not to stay in it.”
Although Leighton-Linslade is meant to be a ‘cycle town’, Matt claims traffic is pushing people to shop out of the town to escape queues, leaving shopkeepers struggling to make any profit.
“Truthfully, the lease has run out, but what we have found with Leighton is that the footfall has dramatically dropped. The rent is too high to be able to expand and have a bigger shop to offer more choice.
“Shops need such a large profit margin for anything to work. We can’t go forward because of that.”
Matt’s store in Shenley Church End, Milton Keynes, is around three times larger than the shop in Leighton and holds a lot more stock with a wider choice of bikes and accessories. A full-time manager and a part-time staff member who currently work in Friday Street will move across to the remaining branch after February 2 closure.
Matt said: “I have found that many of my regular customers who i have served for many years in Leighton Buzzard now come to the Milton Keynes store because of the road works and traffic. Or maybe it is just because I or them get to put the kettle on.
“If my customers were still shopping there I would stay, but a lot who come to MK are actually from LB and say they won’t go there because of the traffic issues in and around the town.”
As part of plans to support businesses in Leighton-Linslade, Central Bedfordshire Council has outlined the High Street vacancy level as 5.9% of all A class premises. Across Central Bedfordshire, there has been a 9.5% increased vacancy rate in the last quarter, which means there are 86 shops lying empty, with only Leighton Buzzard managing to lower its empty shop number by two in October.
Chaineys Cycles’ property is owned by a private landlord, but town council leader David Bowater spoke of his disappointment at hearing the shop was closing.
Mr Bowater said: “I am very sad that they are leaving, but I think it is more due to their personal circumstances than anything else. And he has got a bit of competition in the town now. I think Leighton Buzzard shops are outstanding. It will reduce the retail mix in the town. It is sad to hear, the landlords need to realise they are charging too much rent. The council has no control over those events. Chaineys is a local store that was doing well, but obviously not enough. A return in the future would be most welcome.”
Matt said: “We have seen a big change in the demands of cycling. With more choice in bikes and accessories our store in mk can give everyone what they require. This would not be a viable option in Leighton buzzard due to very expensive rent and rates on a larger better situated premises.
“I built up a massive following in Leighton Buzzard, because being born and bred in Heath and Reach has meant I know a lot of people who come to the shop.
“I will be gutted to leave that shop because I have made a lot of my friends from there because I’ve been working there for so many years.”
Samuel Cain, keen cyclist and former ‘Saturday boy’ at Chaineys Cycles, said: “It will be a detriment to the town lose the branch in LB; custom will be driven to MK or to use the web.
“Matt’s owned both MK and LB shops for a while. That shop played a huge part in my adolescence; I think it’s a shame. LB needs a good shop.
“I’ve worked for Matt Moreton sporadically for years. There was a great riding scene in LB and it centered around Chaineys Cycles.
“I think that it’s a travesty that LB will lose such a valued asset, especially for the youth of the town.”
Chaineys Cycles will close on February 2.
Matt added: “But there are many factors to why I am closing down. I am fed up of kissing my kids goodbye in the morning and not getting to spend anytime with them. The reality is I have two children and being in three places at once just doesn’t work.
“I have had to close so I can progress and make time more time for my family. Moving the shop to Milton Keynes will give me a few more hours to spend with my family instead of the 90 hour weeks.
“I will never move from Leighton Buzzard ever. You won’t catch me living in Milton Keynes!”
After the LBO reported that Matt would be closing down, many people took to Facebook and Twitter to express their disappointment in another of Leighton’s valued independent’s closing down.
Christine Peppitt said: “Soon we will only have pubs,charity shops and estate agents in Leighton - then traders wonder why we choose to go over to Milton Keynes to do our shopping!! Perhaps Leighton would benefit from a new retail park after all.”
Jenny Waples said: “Time to put rents down and stop wasting money on road ‘improvements’.”
Reasons To Be Cheerful said: “There are lots of nice little shops in Leighton Buzzard which all need supporting by the local community. The more support the towns shops get the better the local economy will beto help local businesses to keep their doors open. An interesting fact I heard on the BBC news was that for every pound spent locally 50p stays in the town. If it is spent in a larger retail park it is only 5p!”