24/11/2010 10:23:00 a.m.
BROKE former café owner John Matias is says high rents will change the Wellington we know and love, “When people can’t afford the rent the big names move in. Streets become predictable, like Auckland’s Queen Street, and you don’t go there for fun anymore.”
A month ago, the Espresso Republic Café owner walked out of the café he’d owned for nearly seven years.
“I know in my heart I did everything a hard working person could do, but I had to leave. I have nothing now,” he says.
He’s lost his business, and the house he mortgaged in an attempt to save the business.
When Matias moved into the premises in 2003 his rent was $7 000 a month, “A year later the new landlord came in and nearly doubled the rent in one hit. Soon it was $15 000 a month.”
Matias’ wife had a breakdown, “which was directly attributable to the fear of what would happen if we couldn’t hold it together.”Matias was looking after his wife and trying to keep his business alive when the recession hit.
“So we reopened seven days a week and in the evenings on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”
“It was dreadful. We thought, let’s re-open in the evenings in Spring, and that was dreadful too.”
Matias was working seven days a week, “I’d be in bed by midnight, and back in the café at eight the next morning, every day.”
Staff were cut down but with Christmas looming the struggle got worse, and eventually, on October 28, he left.
What Matias can’t understand, is why landlords can’t make concessions.
“Financial trouble is all over the world and we know it’s happening here. Could they not just make adjustments for a couple of years? As it is, it’s win-win for a landlord, while the tenant busts his balls trying to keep alive and loses. He’s a puppet.”
Matias points to buildings on Customhouse Quay that he says have been empty for years, “Wouldn’t it be better to drop the rent a little and have people in there?” he asks, suggesting is would add to the appeal of Central Wellington.
Matias remains positive, still the man so eagerly optimistic people voted him top “Character” in our Best of Wellington Poll in 2006, and second in 2007 and 2008.
“I look at it like this; my arm had a chain around it, and I was very happy to have that arm removed because it freed the rest of my body to keep going,” he says.
Matias is leaving Wellington, “I’m heading for new horizons. I’m constantly stopped by customers to say how sorry they are and I can’t face them anymore. I want people to understand I didn’t abandon them, and that I miss and will always remember them. They weren’t my customers, they were my friends.”