Free house revival a tonic for pub trade
The closure of record numbers of pubs in the Westcountry could have a silver lining as many are being turned back into traditional free houses.
According to national statistics, 2012 has been the bleakest year yet for the pub trade with an estimated 18 calling time in Britain every week as the rising cost of beer drives landlords out of business.
However, according to Rod Davis of the Campaign for Real Ale, the gloomy figures are not as bad as they might first appear. He said that the pubs closing are mainly tied houses belonging to large chains and that around half subsequently reopen under local ownership as a free house.
"There is no doubt that it is hard times for pubs," said Mr Davis. "When a pub closes it does have an effect on a community, particularly if is the only pub in a village. But it is not entirely doom and gloom. To be honest, some pubs don't deserve to be there. They are either badly run or badly supplied or in the wrong place. I think that at the moment the market is shaking itself down."
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Mr Davis said that a ray of sunshine was offered by the fact that many pubs were reopening as small, agile businesses able to respond quickly to the demands of their customers.
He was also critical of a number of major pub chains who "are not interested in a pub as a pub but just as a cash-earning property."
Mr Davies said that some of the big national chains had landlords "screwed so tight" that they were simply unable to make a profit.
"Some of the big operators are selling their pubs to the free trade and they are making a go of it, which is very good news."
Jennifer Dennis and Peter Tucker, who bought the empty and rundown Fountain Inn at Newbridge, near Penzance, are a case in point.
The couple sold their homes and ploughed their life savings buying and renovating what had previously been an award winning pub owned by St Austell Brewery.
It was daunting, admitted Mrs Dennis.
"People say why do you want to buy the Fountain Inn? If St Austell Brewery couldn't make a go of it, why are you buying it? But the fact is that we are not doing what St Austell brewery were doing. We are taking it in an entirely different direction."
Mrs Dennis, whose background is in the hotel trade, and Mr Tucker, a landlord with 30 years under his belt, are aiming to establish a proper real ale pub with beer drawn straight from the barrels. They will only provide light snacks, although they are happy for customers to bring their own food and have even arranged for a fish and chip van to call regularly and a take-away to deliver.