Rent rise forces cafe closure

UP AND GOING: Liz Butler of Millers Acre Cafe and Creperie has had to close her business.
UP AND GOING: Liz Butler of Millers Acre Cafe and Creperie has had to close her business.

Liz Butler is leaving Nelson heartbroken, embittered and broke.

The 57-year-old put everything she had into the Millers Acre Cafe and Creperie three years ago, but has shut the doors after a rent increase, which she says tipped the balance between making money or making a loss.

Butler said the increase on the Nelson City Council-owned premises she sub-leased from Apex Car Rentals was too great.

Apex is moving its central city outlet down the road to premises it owns at 19 Halifax St. A spokeswoman said a lack of foot traffic in recent years, rather than any issue with the lease on the premises, was behind the decision to move.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said she was not aware of the situation until yesterday, and was "very disappointed" that the cafe business could not continue to operate.

Reese learned yesterday that Butler had approached the council about a direct lease. A valuation was sought and the council had tried to reach an agreement over several months, but it had to be guided by the valuation, she said.

Butler said she was facing what amounted to an 18 per cent rent rise, and despite having made a profit last year, the increase was unaffordable, so she had no choice but to close the cafe.

"I went to the council and put my case forward. I supplied them with accounts and figures and what I felt I could pay.

"I don't blame the staff - they were just doing their job - but when times are so tough, it's no good putting rents up so much."

Reese said she understood that the council could not undercut market valuations on a council premise to subsidise a commercial business. "There would be fairness questions to account for in relation to ratepayer subsidies for commercial operations."

Butler said she thought that with retail in Nelson's CBD in such deep trouble, the council might have come up with a workable solution.

"It's heartbreaking to work that hard and get kicked, just for money.

"Rentals are sucking the CBD dry, but I've got past the stage of bawling every few seconds."

The cafe employed two staff, who worked three days each over a six-day week.

Butler moved to Nelson five years ago from Ashburton and a job as a kitchen designer. When the recession hit, she was made redundant, so she sold her house in Stoke and ploughed the proceeds into the cafe business.

She said she had lost the money she put into the business and what it had taken to build it up.

She did not owe money to suppliers but had a bank loan she still had to service. She hoped to reduce that with the proceeds of an auction of cafe and kitchen equipment at the site on Friday, but she stood to "end up with nothing".

She said she had vacated her flat and was living with friends.

"It's crap, really, especially when you are on your own."

Butler said she was grateful for the help of friends and well-wishers, including a disappointed and loyal clientele.

She had family overseas and up north, and planned to head to Britain to help her daughter, who ran a hospitality business in Cambridge and had paid her airfare.

She then planned to return to Canterbury next February and start again, perhaps in kitchen design project management.

The cafe's equipment will be auctioned at 11am on Friday.

The Nelson Mail