Jorge Artisan Foods owner blasts 'appalling treatment' after Engine Yard shop is closed by Belvoir Castle – which cites 'significant rent arrears'
A shop owner at a retail park has been locked out of his store, saying he has been treated "appallingly" – but the landowners say it is due to "significant rent arrears".
Jorge Artisan Foods, at Belvoir Castle's Engine Yard, has been closed and shop owner George Bennett has been told to have his property out of the premises by May.
It follows the closure of a number of businesses at the retail park in the last 15 months.
George said that over the five years running his shop, he has been "copied, deceived and treated appallingly".
He added: "Since they forced out Café Allez, most of the shops have left.
"The remaining shops have held back on some of the rent because, quite simply, no one’s taken it, due to their actions.
"They've brought in a new management company, who by themselves have a conflict of interest, because they are here to set up yet another farm shop for the estate, selling what everyone else already sells.
"They want to knock the buildings together and take all the trade, so need us out."
It was announced back in January 2022 that Cafe Allez would stop trading at Belvoir Castle, with the business owners saying there was "no opportunity" to renew their lease.
In December, two more businesses at the Engine Yard closed. The Idle Mole garden centre said it had closed as a result of poor footfall, while the owner of B Jewellery cited "parking charges and bad management choices" as reasons for closure.
George said: "[Belvoir Castle] asked us to the Engine Yard when it was a new project in 2018 – to be the deli on site for a lease of 10 years.
"We invested money to open the shop, put our own floor in, all the rest.
"It was requested that we included in our existing ranges fresh cheese, charcuterie, bakery, so there would be the offering available on site.
"It was stated by the project manager and the commercial director representing the estate at the time that we and the butchers would be the only food retailers on site – excluding the chocolate shop and café.
"Since then, there has been a sustained and overt attempt by the castle to copy not only us, but Café Allez and others – there has been orders sent to suppliers, by the estate, in my name.
"They opened a farm shop next door to us, selling similar products, even though in communication with them over the five years they repeatedly stated that this was not the intention, and wouldn't be the case. This has been continuous."
George explained that he paid full rent and service charges during the Covid lockdowns, "even though services weren't being provided and contractors were on furlough".
He added: "The car parking, and subsequent customer fines, killed the trade on return.
"The locals don't and won't support the site because of them. This, along with them opening in competition with us every two minutes, has heavily impacted our and everyone's trade over the last 18 months.
"There has been virtually zero footfall since Christmas, so no one has any income."
The Engine Yard claimed that the closure of Jorge Artisan Foods was due to "long-standing and significant rent arrears".
A spokesperson said that the decision was taken as "a last resort" after being unable to agree a payment plan with the tenant over a "prolonged period" of negotiation.
A spokesperson for the Engine Yard said: “Due to long-standing and significant rent arrears and with no agreement from the tenant to several suggested payment plans, the Engine Yard at Belvoir has taken legal advice and closed the shop, Jorge Artisan Foods.
“Under the lease, the tenancy is forfeit and the tenant will have no further obligations in respect of rent, or any other tenant covenants.
“The tenant has been informed and will be able to collect their goods from the store under supervision.
“The Engine Yard has taken this decision as a last resort and only after a prolonged period of correspondence and negotiation during which we were unable to agree a payment plan with the tenant.
“Our priority now is to install a new tenant offering more of the high quality goods and services that Engine Yard customers are familiar with and have enjoyed for many years."
George thanked the shop's "many loyal customers for their continued support", adding that he hopes someone local can help him and his team move everything to an alternative space quickly.