Mike Wolfe: Pub's closure is another blow for entertainment in our city
WHEN I lived on Hanley Park one of my favourite local pubs was The Vic on the Square opposite the Jaguar garage.
Once a traditional warren of little rooms this had been done up into a thoroughly modern bar and restaurant about 10 years ago.
Despite its plasma screens and trendy furnishings, The Vic still provided peace and quiet to have a conversation after work and good music or entertainment later on.
The food and wine were great and the service always friendly. I went in a few weeks ago and enjoyed a good lunch as well as reading the Christmas brochure of events and special offers for the festive season.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Sadly you can't book next year's Christmas party at The Vic, because on New Year's Eve the business went bust.
Unfortunately the death of a local pub is now so common that it hardly merits comment.
This collapse, however, needs analysis because the landlady concerned was none other than Bernadette Kerrigan. Anybody who has met Berni knows that she is the best in the business. A powerful woman, she is as likely to have her sleeves rolled up behind the bar as to be in a quiet corner analysing figures on her lap top. She can head off trouble late at night better than any bouncer. She uses a few assertive words and commands with her personality.
Control is not often needed because Berni's pubs provide food and entertainment which attract a different crowd and distracts those who might behave like prats in other venues.
Every customer is welcomed and the staff she employs are clearly respected and therefore motivated.
Berni is an astute businesswoman. She had the figures on the top of her head to explain to this paper why she had gone out of business. She charts the rise in Business Rates from £10,000 annually, to £13,000, then £18,000.
This year, she explained, she was asked to pay £22,000 and, having pushed its luck, the council will get nothing and see another boarded up business instead.
Like most of us Berni did not forsee the coming recession when she invested her life savings in 2003.
She was initially successful with takings in 2008 around £600,000 but in the recession they dropped by £200,000 a year.
Trade from customers to the old Sunday market and pedestrian trade collapsed with the development of the new Tesco.
At the same time as Berni is coping with the realities of the recession, a task group set up by Stoke-on-Trent City Council is examining how it can attract more people into Hanley at night.
Last week it heard evidence which, we are told, will lead to a strategy being drawn up which could help shape future decisions on licences and the type of businesses the council tries to attract to Hanley.
It is really hard to maintain patience with the council and its strategies.
I can only suggest that they stop listening to the usual platitudes from people like the highly subsidised ATG or Wetherspoons, and get out and about amongst great local business people like Berni Kerrigan.
I wasn't surprised that they didn't invite me to give evidence to their inquiry, but I have repeatedly recommended ideas in this column to make the city centre attractive which they might at least consider.
Everybody else knows them, but, just in case the strategy wallahs are reading let me repeat them.
What we need is an entertaining centre. It will be different from its competitors because it will have continuous events and attractions, everything from ice rinks to summer fairs. There will be business rate subsidies and rent reductions for independent local entrepreneurs who are prepared to inject energy and quirkiness into Stoke-on-Trent's centre.
There will be live music and street theatre, events for pensioners and primary schools, and many will be driven by the genius of local communities. Money will be spent on entertaining people instead of on granite paving which merely delivers profit to designers and contractors.
Alongside the fun there will be a publicity blitz to ensure everyone across the region knows what is going on. Once a year we might have a bonfire of the strategies as we celebrate the rebirth of a city and the regeneration of its wealth and pride.