White's Tavern: Landlord quits at historic city pub over costly slump in trade
The tenant of the historic White's Tavern in Belfast is surrendering his keys after more than a decade, blaming the toll which flag protests and other disruptions have taken on one of the city's oldest pubs.
Uncle and nephew team Stephen and Kris Nixon, who also run The Point in east Belfast, said they had been unable to recoup thousands of pounds in trade lost in the past few years, most recently following a fire, bombings and a bomb scare last month.
The pair also cited the impact of cheap supermarket alcohol and increased competition for eroding their bottom line.
Stephen Nixon has been tenant of the pub – which belongs to pub group Beannchor and its head Bill Wolsey – for 12 years. Mr Wolsey will take over the business on February 3 when it will close for 10 days for a "sympathetic refurbishment" before reopening around February 13.
Stephen Nixon said the rising costs of doing business had made him and manager Kris decide to walk away.
"Rates in particular are unsustainable for what the business takes in," he said.
"We no longer get value for what we pay in rates, which is up to £27,000."
Yearly rent is around £86,000 – and Stephen Nixon estimated that the business had lost more than a third of that in the last few years.
He said he had to close in August for the first time in 12 years of business when loyalist rioting spread close to Winecellar Entry.
Another blow came at the end of October, when a fire at nearby shop B&M Bargains restricted access to the pub – causing it to lose around £6,500, he said.
The pub's location off High Street also left it open to the fear spread by a bomb at St Anne's Square on December 13, a firebomb at a shop in Cornmarket on December 16, and a bomb scare on December 20 outside the Post Office on High Street.
"We are right in the middle," he said.
Colin Neill, chief executive at industry body Pubs of Ulster, said: "There is no doubt that recent events such as the flags protest and parades, have been tough and challenging for pub owners, not to mention other challenges such as city centre rates, but White's is set in a prominent location and remains an integral part of Belfast's nightlife.
"Thankfully, it does not spell the end for White's Tavern.
"Its owner Beannchor Group will now take back control of the pub and following some refurbishment, White's will reopen in a few weeks.
"I have no doubt it will continue to trade successfully, offering customers as warm a welcome as it has done since 1630."
Beannchor director Conall Wolsey said: "We are investing time in refocusing the entertainment offering, which we believe will add to this attractive and atmospheric city centre pub."