The Happy Samurai has moved to Butchery Lane

The Black Hole of Whitefriars

Last week the Canterbury Journal reported that the Happy Samurai Japanese restaurant had moved from the spot it has occupied in the Marlowe Arcade for the last two years.

Owner David Smith said the unit, most of which fronts St Margaret’s Street, was not working for his business and transferred it into the former Club Burrito shop in Butchery Lane.

He said he expected better footfall at the new location, prompting some to question what was wrong with the original location.

The reality is, however, that no businesses thrive here, much less survive.

It is a black hole in the Whitefriars complex, having seen numerous incarnations in the last few years.

The former Lloyds Bank

Before becoming a Japanese restaurant, it had been a French restaurant and before that a patisserie and before that, well, something else…

Mr Smith complained of high rents which means that independents might struggle in Whitefriars.

Indeed, almost all of the 60 or so businesses operating there are large chains.

The former Happy Samurai unit now threatens to remain idle, alongside units which have sat unused for many months.

The former Lloyds Bank in Whitefriars has been dormant since since it shut as an American diner. Two units opposite it stand empty.

And questions have surfaced about the economic wisdom of Canterbury City Council’s decision to buy outright the shopping centre earlier this year. It had already bought half in 2016. But business experts are warning that the value of shopping centres is being jeopardised by such things as high import prices, reduced High Street spending and the growing might of the online market.

James Findlater, head of UK shopping centre investment at global estate agency Colliers, the global estate agency, told the Financial Times that councils such buying properties was a cause for concern.

He says they are taking them over “from sleepy institutions or desperate private equity investors that cannot wait to move them on.

Two empty units at Whitefriars

“Councils have come in and will pay yesterday’s prices for assets they’re not well placed to manage.”

But other commercial property agents believe councils are buying at a good time because they are not priced out by the private sector.

Canterbury City Council insists that profit is not the sole purpose for its purchase of Whitefriars.

It argues that it is crucial to have control over the key part of the city centre.

Regardless of that, the sight of empty shop units must be a concern for Whitefriars’ council owners – both in terms of the image they present and the loss of revenue.

A question hangs in the air about how long units at the prime shopping precinct will remain empty. And if they are filled then another will arise: will they, too, will fall victim to the Black Hole of Whitefriars.

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