Guy Tabourin poses for a portrait inside his Vinoteca wine shop in Luxembourg City-Centre earlier this year. Photo: Mike Zenari
Guy Tabourin of Vinoteca partially blames the media for reinforcing negative news about shops in the city centre, would like the City of Luxembourg to ease up on parking rules and thinks landlords are getting something of a bad rap.
When Delano interviewed Tabourin about the consumer wine trade in Luxembourg for the September/October print edition (Tabourin also spoke at this week’s Delano Live event on the retail wine business), naturally the challenges facing city centre shops was part of the conversation (see our current cover story).
Tabourin, who is a former journalist, believes that when the press writes about the problems of the retail sector in the city centre, it inadvertently sends two negative messages to the public that, in an vicious circle, discourages even more people from shopping in the area. “It’s one, shops are closing down, it’s a negative message. It’s not the fault of the press, it’s just a negative message,” he said.
“The point is, the press writes more about shops closing down than shops opening. Because when you open a shop and you want some press, they will make you” buy an advertisement instead of writing an article. “But when a shop closes then it’s the occasion to write [an article]. It’s a little bit perverse.”
“And the second thing is this message ‘there are only big brands left in the city. There are no small retailers, so there’s no longer any interest in coming’” to the city centre, an supposition which Tabourin definitely would dispute.
On the other hand, parking and transport remain tangibly tricky topics. Take parking. “When we opened here,” customers were able to briefly park in front of the shop, “put some cases of wine in and they can go. And we are now in a ‘zone de rencontre’,” a reduced speed area that is meant to be more pedestrian and cyclist friendly (but is not a pedestrian zone).
Municipal authorities eliminated the spaces in front of his shop and parking wardens have been enforcing the rules. “Last week five of our customers got €34 [fines] just because they stopped in front of the shop” to load their cars with wine they had just bought, he said on 30 July. Tabourin asked the city about more flexibility back in May, but did not receive a response. (Delano asked the city for comment in September.)
Local authorities do regularly ask retailers how they can help and Tabourin reckons they could “just be a little more smooth with the people running a business in the city”, especially when it comes to short-term parking for heavier items. At the same time, “I think it’s too easy and too simple to always give the fault to the city and the government if something is not working.”
“Honestly the city, just to say, I think they are aware that they have to do something for the retailer businesses in the city, but they cannot do a lot,” because so much depends on the actions of private companies and landlords.
That said, he gives mixed marks for the current tram project:
“At the end the tram will be fantastic thing for the city, even if I’m not very happy about the fact that the tram goes beside the city [centre] and not in the city [centre]. That’s something that was never discussed, strangely enough. In all big cities the tram goes through the city [centre], and here it just touches the city at one point and then it goes to the station area....
“Through the city, Porte Neuve, place d’Armes, why not? That would be a city tram!”
“When you go to Amsterdam”, for example, “the tram goes everywhere”, he observed.
“I know the idea at that moment was to also have the place d’Etoile in the circuit of the tram, but it’s something that brings people on the other side of the town, not on our side of the town.”
Asked if high rents are a problem for city centre retailers, Tabourin replied:
“Yes and no. We have high rent here, but we knew that when we began our businesses. So it’s not something new.”
“I think when you sign a lease at a certain place you know the amount of what you have to pay. And you cannot come 5 years later and say the rent is too high. When you feel that your business plan is made in a way that you can pay it, you go for it. When you feel it’s too expensive, [then] let it be. But it’s too easy to just complaint about rent.
“When your period is finished and then the landlord doubles the rent, for example, that’s for sure no longer possible. That’s more the problem, I think.”
Are such cases common? “I know that it happens, yes…. It happens. I think it happens more in the Grand-Rue [and rue] Philippe II area than the rest of the city.”
Although “I find the idea very good” Vinoteca is not open on the Sundays when retailers are authorised to trade. When he arrived at his current space around four years ago, a neighbouring shopkeeper told him, ‘you will see, on Sunday people are walking around but they don’t buy’.
“And it’s exactly true,” Tabourin recounts. “So there are a lot of people in the city, no problem, but they don’t buy.”