Independent retailers are being priced out of Birmingham as developers turn the city centre into "a faceless, soulless shopping centre," it was claimed yesterday.
Urban Village, which has been part of the Custard Factory complex in Digbeth for nearly seven years, is being forced to close after its owner could not find an alternative affordable site for his memorabilia emporium.
Frankie Johns, who opened the store in October 1999, believes "greedy landlords" are only interested in supporting corporate tenants, leaving independent businesses to struggle.
The squeeze on small independent traders has led to calls from a private business lobby group for more Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) to be set up in retail areas.
Birmingham's only current city centre BID is in the Broad Street entertainment district.
BIDs involve local traders setting up a partnership with the local authority where they pay extra rent for environmental improvements.
A Midland property expert said rising rents in Birmingham's retail sector was a price of the city's success.
Birmingham City Council's regeneration chief Councillor Ken Hardeman also claimed that retailers would have to face high rents if they wanted to be based in the prime retail sites.
Mr Johns scoured the city for a new site after he was given three months' notice that his tenure at Devonshire House, the former office for Bird's Custard factory, would end in July.
"At our present location I pay about £20,000 a year for rent and business rates, which I would say is fair," said Mr Johns.
"But when I looked at an alternative location in Chinatown - which would have been ideal - that would cost £60,000 a year in rent with £24,000 in rates.
"Three years ago or so that site would have been affordable, but since developers have started investing in the area and building yet more flats prices have shot up to a silly level."
Similar inquiries at Piccadilly Arcade, off New Street, showed he would have to pay £35,000 rent and £18,000 rates for a 450sq ft unit. Urban Village's current home - until July 29 - is a listed building which owner Bennie Gray, who bought the Bird's site 12 years ago, is preparing to convert into offices for small firms.
"I have no problem with Custard Factory or Bennie Gray, because he has always taken on projects which benefit independent businesses and new start-ups," added Mr Johns.
"It's such a shame that the city can't support an independent sector.
Tim Kind, property adviser for the Forum of Private Businesses, said independent traders were a victim of the " fragmentation" of city centres.
He said that large shopping centres, such as the Bullring, and out-of-town retail parks would have strategies in place that benefit all traders for the common good.
But city centres were operated by individual landlords driven by the large rents, he said.
"Traders are at the mercy of individual landlords who tend to go for the highest rent and the ability to pay rent," Mr Kind said.
"The independent traders take the hardest hit because they have only one unit which takes the hit."
Coun Hardeman ( Con Brandwood), the council's cabinet member for regeneration, said retail cores in Manchester and Liverpool were also experiencing rising prices.
He suggested that Mr Johns could relocate to the Jewellery Quarter, which is emerging as a centre for the creative industries.
"If you want to locate near New Street, then you have to compete with other people who pay the high rents," Coun Hardeman said.
"It is not the council's role to subsidise retailers who cannot afford rents. It is our job to provide opportunities for traders to work in the city."
Nick De-Pons, director of Jones Lang Lasalle property consultancy said Birmingham's retail core had been boosted since the launch of the Bullring in 2003, "one of Europe's main shopping centres".
He added: "The Custard Factory is its own pitch, everybody knows where it is.
"When you get closer into the centre the rent is obviously going to be much higher."