Pubs in the North are closing or being put up for sale in large numbers.
Traditional hotels and taverns are no longer attracting the patronage they used to.
The trend is similar to that in the United Kingdom, where scores of traditional pubs and taverns have been closing every month for the last ten years. They have been supplanted by smaller, more boutique premises such as wine bars and cafes.
A list compiled by Northern News found 17 Northland pubs either listed for sale, closed, or both. In some cases the building and the pub business are under one owner. In other cases, the pub business is owned by one party, and the building by another.
Ross Lynch, proprietor of the Homestead Tavern in Kerikeri says he is anxious not to let down fellow publicans by sounding negative, but he says the facts are that drinking habits are changing.
Greatly increased numbers of police checkpoints, the inability to smoke inside pubs, and cheap prices for take-home alcohol at liquor stores are major factors, he says.
Mr Lynch adds that in the case of many old-style pubs, the ownership of the building is in different hands to the ownership of the pub business.
Leasehold operators of the pub businesses face punishingly large rents to landlords which they must fund out of dwindling patronage. In turn, building owners have been hit by high insurance premiums, increased rates, and the never ending costs of maintenance on what in some cases are very old buildings.
Ray Biggs, owner of the Ohaeawai Hotel for seven years, says his clients rarely cited drink-drive checkpoints as a reason for fewer visits to his small-town pub. The major reason for dwindling local patronage is lack of the discretionary dollar in the community.
The Ohaeawai Hotel, established in 1895, still offers accommodation, which many pubs don't, having changed their licences to "Tavern".
Accommodation at Ray's Pub is from as little as $35 a night for a single room.
Ray toured the Northern News reporter through the ancient rooms, and they looked clean, tidy, with nice linen, and were romantically olde worlde. Ray says he has some very good business weeks and then some very low ones, both in the bar side of the business and in the accommodation side.
If he wasn't nearly 70 years old and rather was 40, he could see himself and a business partner reviving the place into something different, something more modern and appealing, he says.
Ray admits that he is on the market, but he is happy to continue running the place. He says he enjoys it. But he agrees with Kerikeri's Ross Lynch that the problem with pubs everywhere is that people can drink at home very cheaply. Ray adds that cellphones have changed the social patterns whereby a guy in the pub can be "harangued by his wife to come home".
Tracey Smidt, part owner of The Pioneer Tavern, Waipapa, a more modern pub, has been co-proprietor of the business for about two years. She accepts that it could take some time to sell.
"The Pioneer has a strong following for its Wednesday night pub quiz and for attractions on other nights," she says.
STATE OF NORTHLAND'S PUBS
The following Northland Pubs are currently listed for sale in one form another, whether it be the business but not the building, or the business and the building as one.
Pioneer Tavern, Waipapa Open but listed for sale
Homestead, Kerikeri Open but listed for sale
Hukerenui Hotel Closed and listed for sale
Kaeo Tavern Closed. Further details unknown.
Mangawhai Hotel Open but listed for sale.
Masonic, Rawene Open but listed for sale
Kaitaia Hotel Closed. Further status unknown
Ohaeawai Hotel Open but listed for sale
Kaikohe Hotel Closed by Court Order due to safety issues
Marlin Hotel, Whangaroa Open but listed for sale.
Towai Hotel. Open but listed for sale.
Three Furlongs, Kaiwaka Open but listed for sale.
Kamo Hotel Open but listed for sale.
Houhora Hotel Open but listed for sale.
Poroti Tavern. Open but listed for sale.
Ruawai Hotel. Open but listed for sale.
Road Runner Tavern, Opua Open but listed for sale.
- © Fairfax NZ News