Saint or sinner? Depending on who you listen to, this man is either the kiss o’ death and Grim Reaper of the licensed trade hereabouts, or its Messiah and knight in shining armour. This is Peter Styles, owner of the Bush, Swan, Crown, Crown & Anchor, and Grosvenor all in St Johns, as well as the Sebright, Albion, Gun, Berwick (as was) and a good half a dozen more in the city and elsewhere in the county – and after a chat in the soon-to-be-revived Swan where I saw work-in-progress the other day and twigged that it’s pegged for opening by Christmas, I’m in no doubts as to where I stand. Firmly in the latter camp.
Granted, he’s a property developer and like every other – the pubcos included, as frankly that’s all they are too – he’s in business to see a return on investment. The difference is that he is not a company beholden to its remote shareholders whose only aim is profit at any cost: he’s actually a sole trader, investing his own money. What’s more, he actually gives a shot as to whether a pub closes or remains open and regardless of what that pudd’n-headed local CAMRA branch thinks, what he’s throwing is a lifeline and not a mill-stone.
That’s why he spends £100k a year at Jewsons, bringing each pub salvaged from the clutches of the pubcos up to scratch so that any new tenant can buy his beer and spirits anywhere he likes without being saddled with refurb and ancillary costs before he can pull his first pint. Sounds to me like a God-send and a plan for the future – and if the cost of keeping a pub open carries the risk of some additional element of change, so be it. The construction of buildings on an unused car park (as per the Sebright Arms) or turning redundant upstairs rooms into flats (such as The Bush) is frankly a paltry price to pay in return for a) extension of the pub’s life as an alternative to its loss to yet another supermarket or yet more unaffordable housing, and b) financing the continuation of more of the same.
It’s also the route to what I consider to be the only salvation for a growing number of squeezed pubco pubs, clearing the way for committed and entrepreneurial landlords and/or, if they’re so inclined, local micro-breweries like Cannon Royall, Pope’s, St Georges, Winning Post and others, each running and servicing a clutch of maybe half a dozen pubs, gaffered by their own incentives-driven managers and all pulling in the same direction. It’s a situation that’s already working at the Bush (Cannon Royall), the King Charles (Craddock’s), and the Imperial (Black Country Ales) and there’s room for more. Inevitably, the time is going to come that an ailing pub he’s just bought is simply not viable – after all, there’s not much future in keeping pubs artificially alive and such a situation looks likely at the Albion, sad to say. But for the most part, I believe we can expect more of the same from Pete Styles who’s at least prepared to put his ackers where his mouth is by not ruthlessly shackling licensees to one-way and untenable contracts, thereby bleeding the industry white and forcing drinkers to chose the supermarket over the pub.
The more we chatted, the more I came to realise that he and I agree on most things pub-related, and that he’s nowhere near the Big Bad Wolf that some have marked his card as. Good on yer mate, I say. I like your style(s)!