Cheltenham publican walks away from dying trade
WHEN Lee Sharpe left school in 1963, there were enough pubs in Cheltenham to visit a different one on every day of the year, the publican has said.
But a shift in consumer trends, a ban on smoking and cheaper supermarket alcohol have made life tough on publicans.
And after decades in the trade, Lee is walking away, another casualty, unable to make things work in an increasingly difficult financial environment.
Lee was forced to shut The Cavern on the corner of New Street and Park Street in 2010 and has been trying to find a way to reopen the premises in some guise ever since.
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But the money has now run out and he has made the "tough decision" to cut his losses.
The 64-year-old pub owner said: "I closed the pub a couple of years ago and tried to make a go of it as flats and then I was going to try and open a part of it as a bar but I cannot afford to do it.
"The mortgage is £4,300 a month and a couple of months ago I looked at the area again and all of the pubs here are closing down and there isn't a lot of passing trade.
"I am giving back the keys to the mortgage lender next week. It has been a tough decision but I have been working here for no wages for the last few years, and the building is so old and dilapidated, it needs a cash injection of £100,000."
Before it was a pub, The Cavern used to be four Victorian houses.
Lee hopes the site could be put back to how it used to be.
He said he would be sad to leave but owed regulars support.
As for the state of the pub trade today, Lee is sceptical, critical of outside forces which have made life difficult.
He said: "I have been in Cheltenham most of my life and when I was a kid there was a pub on every corner and that is no exaggeration. Over the years, the lower end of the town has suffered. We have no passing trade, people aren't visiting. You can't blame the smoking ban for everything but people have decided to drink at home with a cigarette instead. Also, the cheap supermarket booze hasn't helped."