A fixture on the Canterbury city center bar scene for 16 years, Bramleys is known for its live music, quirky decor and extensive cocktail menu.
After announcing the difficult decision to close permanently this week, owner Jack Mayhew opens up about the struggles independent businesses are facing – and what can be done to save those few who remain.
Jack Mayhew from Bramleys cocktail bar in Canterbury
I opened Bramleys in 2007 at the age of 23 because I wanted to create something different and unique.
I loved Bramleys and my whole life revolved around them. I don’t think people always realize how the owners feel about their businesses. The motivation is not just financial – there is a pride and tremendous satisfaction in providing service and expressing yourself.
Closing Bramleys was a very difficult decision. We had such a loyal following but we could never make enough money at the end of the week and it felt like there was a new price increase or new issue every week, it got too emotionally draining.
People were shocked and surprised to hear Bramleys was closing. I think from the outside it can appear that all is well when in reality it was very different and this reality is felt by many companies in Canterbury.
Bramleys (left) in Orange Street, Canterbury
I think it’s important to highlight what’s going on – not just in Canterbury but across the country. I love Canterbury and it saddens me to see things going in that direction.
Walk down Canterbury High Street and it’s mostly chain and empty shops. Independents are priced out – you’ll find them on the back streets now.
The policy that can correct this is entirely within the power of the City Council. I’d like to think they have the best interests of Canterbury at heart, but I think they lack diligence.
I imagine they consider every chain that sets foot here as a win. What I’m asking is how much of a win is it? And for whom?
The wealth generated in companies like the Cozy Club or Nando’s is diverted to shareholders far beyond Canterbury. We get their near-minimal staff wages – is that a win for Canterbury?
Not to mention the uniformity and blandness that many of our city’s chains impose.
Elsewhere, the £115million Riverside urban leisure complex may look good on paper, but it will deal a serious blow to Canterbury city centre.
Bramley’s Cocktail Bar in Canterbury has closed. Image: Jack Mayhew
What exactly was the point behind it? And how was it decided who was allowed to be there?
We have many empty stores that could be filled with wonderful, one-of-a-kind outlets, with residential accommodation above. They could have created start-up grants that subsidized usurious rents and created complementary business opportunities. Why create something that will inherently leave the city center? It makes no sense.
I’m not against chains per se, every city and many industries need them, but I’m against an influx of chains forcing established smaller companies to compete for scrap instead of complementing them. It creates a world where dog and dog eat and concentrates wealth at the top, not in the local community.
I would also like to see the formation of an independent traders association as I think that although Canterbury BID (Business Improvement District) does a lot to promote Canterbury at a regional and national level – it is inherently unable to support independent businesses give the voice they need.
An evening of live music at Bramleys Cocktail Bar in Canterbury. Image: Jack Mayhew
I hope that Canterbury residents will support independent businesses as much as they can and recognize that they are the backbone of our city. My business isn’t the first to go, and it won’t be the last.
I know the cost of living crisis is affecting people’s decisions, but one of the reasons independent companies are raising their prices is to survive in the face of the huge increase in chains in Canterbury – who can charge less and attract more people because of their purchasing power. It is a doom-loop.
People might think they are supporting businesses by buying through Deliveroo etc. but the reality is that the amount of money we get after taking their share is tiny. We joined Deliveroo but left when customers paid £20 for a pizza that was £12 in our bar. For £20 you could have gotten a pizza and two cocktails.
There are ways to support local people and save money. A few months ago, I was trying to lure people into the King’s Mile neighborhood with a nonprofit app that rewards people for shopping locally. We developed it into an app which is now available across Kent and other parts of the UK.
The more businesses and users it gains, the more it can help independent businesses. The app is called DEFY. and can be found in iOS and Android app stores. My hope is that DEFY. and other campaigns can help prevent more independents from going under.
It’s too late for the Bramleys, but not too late for our other independents.