The Financial Struggle: Cambridge Shop Owners Face Rising Cost of Living

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The rising cost of living, skyrocketing rents, and the proposed implementation of a congestion charge have compelled numerous business owners in Cambridge city centre to reassess their choice of location. This begs the question: is the cost of conducting business in Cambridge simply too exorbitant?

Cambridge Unfavorable To Businesses 

When Robin Chappell recently closed his shop in Cambridge after nearly 15 years, he confessed to feeling a sense of relief. Chappell, the proprietor of Chocolat Chocolat, has relocated his business to Hatley St George, near Sandy in Bedfordshire. He now focuses on online orders and the organization of workshops and courses.

According to the 64-year-old entrepreneur, the cost of operating as an independent business in Cambridge is excessively high. However, he has discovered a new location that offers convenience, a more favorable business environment, and ease of accessibility.

Cambridge has increasingly shifted its focus towards large chain establishments, leaving independent businesses struggling to thrive. In fact, some of Chappell’s customers have even expressed that it is more convenient for them to visit Milton Keynes rather than Cambridge.


The rent for his 36 sq m (365.5 sq ft) shop in the Grand Arcade amounted to approximately £50,000 per year. He further expresses concern that Cambridge will eventually transform into a clone town, saturated with international brands. The decline in foot traffic has made it exceedingly difficult to generate revenue, forcing businesses to struggle for every pound earned.

Business Owners Facing A Lot Of Challanges 

With anticipation, we eagerly await the opportunity to leave behind the obstacles associated with running an independent business in Cambridge. Neil Mackay, the managing director of Mackays hardware store on East Road, has been a prominent figure in the city since 1912. However, he is now facing a multitude of challenges that are threatening the future of his business.

One of the most pressing issues is the ever-increasing cost of running the store. Mackay laments that not only are these rising costs evident in the invoices, but there are also hidden expenses that are taking a toll on the business. Rates, electricity, and gas prices have reached astronomical levels, putting a strain on the store’s finances.

Moreover, Mackays has long recognized that Cambridge has become an inhospitable environment for businesses, particularly for those reliant on motorized transportation. As a hardware store, they deal with heavy items that require vehicles to transport them.

Read More: Economic Woes Hit UK Businesses Hard: BDO Survey Reveals Decline in Confidence and Recruiting

Parking Rates In The City Are High 

However, the exorbitant parking rates in the city are discouraging customers from visiting the store. This, in turn, is negatively impacting sales and causing frustration among local business colleagues who are facing similar challenges.

Councillor Alice Gilderdale, 25, the deputy leader of Cambridge City Council, expressed her genuine empathy towards business owners in the city who are currently facing a series of crises. These include the cost of living crisis, the ongoing pandemic, and the uncertainties surrounding Brexit. These challenges have created a highly challenging environment for businesses, with their impacts accumulating over time.

It is important to note that no final decision has been made regarding the implementation of a congestion charge. If approved, this proposal would only be enforced in the late 2020s.

Joseph Broad, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, is the proud owner of The Hot Sausage Company street stall located on Fitzroy Street in Cambridge. However, he is now facing a tough decision due to the skyrocketing costs associated with running a business in this area.

“I have already been forced to relocate my residence due to the exorbitant cost of living here,” Joseph explains. Despite this, he is determined to keep his business rooted in its original location on Fitzroy Street, where it first opened its doors in 1986.  “There is a personal drive within me to preserve the legacy of The Hot Sausage Company,” he adds.

Joseph acknowledges that he is not the only one grappling with these challenges. He points out a fruit and vegetable stand nearby that must utilize two vans and a truck to transport their goods to the street, incurring a staggering £70 per day in congestion charges.

 “In such circumstances, business owners are left with two options: raise prices or abandon Cambridge altogether,” Joseph laments. However, he recognizes the limitations of the former approach, stating, “There is only so much I can charge for a hot dog. Selling them for eight pounds each simply isn’t feasible.”

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.