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Struggling Witney bar's owner issues use it or lose it warning
THE landlord of Witney’s Nortons cafe-bar has told his customers to “use it or lose it”.
Mark Wates, who runs the bar in Langdale Gate, said it could close after Easter if trade does not pick up.
His warning follows the closure of Market Square nightclub iZi last September. Mr Wates claimed his bar had lost money almost every week since then.
He believes more young people are leaving the town for nights out.
Mr Wates said: “It’s not looking good. I tell people that if they don’t support us, we will close.
“The first two months of the year were the wettest on record, so it’s hard to tell for definite but if I look on Facebook, I see what people are doing – they’re going to Oxford and spending their money elsewhere.
“I will wake up one morning and say ‘that’s it, I’ve had enough’. It’s the decision the customers are going to make. If they don’t support me, that’s it.”
In January, the Witney Gazette reported that Mr Wates said he would have to decide whether to close the bar after Witney had become a “ghost town” for nightlife.
He has now set a deadline and said: “Easter is always good for us, but last year iZi was open, so that will be the test.
“If it’s not good that weekend, then I can’t afford to pay the rent and VAT and that will be the end of it.”
Restaurant firm Loungers has applied for a premises licence from West Oxfordshire District Council to take over iZi’s premises. The club closed because of increased competition and rising business rates.
Mr Wates added: “This is 100 per cent due to the closure of iZi, which was the final nail in the coffin. The young people want a nightclub. The other pubs aren’t stepping up to the mark and are just plodding along.”
Mr Wates’ daughter Tilly, 23, is bar manager. She said: “We thought when iZi’s closed it would make it busier, but it has been the opposite.
“It’s a small business, so it’s sad, but you can’t carry on if it’s quiet.”
Ye Olde Cross Keys deputy manager Lee Scoles, who worked at iZi for 10 years before it shut, said the town’s nightlife was now “dire”.
He said: “It has just killed the town. Everyone just goes to Oxford.”
Witney resident Kayleigh Vickers, 24, said she and her friends now preferred going to Oxford.
The event manager said: “Since iZi closed, Witney has lost its nightlife. It’s easier to go to Oxford, because there are more options.”
Royal Oak landlady Lesley Semaine, who is the chairman of Witney & District Chamber of Commerce, believes the trade is at its lowest point in her 29 years as a licensee. She said: “We’re slowly losing part of our community.”
Taxi driver Julian Taylor said: “The ranks are very quiet now, because the young people are getting buses to and from Oxford. There’s nothing in Witney for them, because there’s only pubs and no clubs.”
West Oxfordshire District Council’s cabinet member for communities, Richard Langridge, said: “We need a balanced nightlife, with something for youngsters and older people.”
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