No more quality wine in Westernhaven. De Roemer, local business founded ten years ago in the throbbing heart of the city will no longer supply Groningers with booze, spirits and alcohol of all sorts.
Almost three years of pandemic, combined with unyielding inflation and the energy crisis, have taken a toll on local businesses, which have begun slipping through the cracks of an already weakened entrepreneurial fabric.
One such business is De Roemer, Dutch word for large drinking glass, which will close down mid-February due to increased rental prices and overall utility hikes.
The store, imbued with the wooden smell of old wine barrels, sells more than just its proud collection of 750 wines, imported mainly from Italy, Spain and France.
The owner, Jurjen Smeenk, 37, who studied to become a licensed sommelier, says he tries to strike a balance between costs and quality, trying to tout his selection of high-end imported wines as a sort of differentiation point used to establish a loyal relationship with their long-standing clientele, which amounts to roughly 80% of his total customer base.
“If I were to stay open, I would need to pay 1000 euros more, on top of what I pay now. I don’t want to work for my landlord,” he claims.
In Dutch law, landlords are legally allowed to index rent only once a year. Most leases contain a rent indexation provision that has been unavoidably affected by inflationary pressures.
“The index was between 1 and 2,5% maximum, but last year it was 6%,” continues Jurjen. The index is typically inclusive of electricity. “It’s strange that the index is so high. My landlord does not pay for electricity, I do,” he stresses.
De Roemer was a thriving business. “I was really overworked, I had my best revenue last year,” he states. But he looks relieved somehow about his decision. “I have been struggling for the past two years. I will continue to supply private restaurants in town, preserve my network for private sales, and hold tastings in the city center”.
De Roemer has so far been the main beverage supplier for some of the city’s best-renowned restaurants, such as Bellami’s Bar, De Haan, Uurwerker, Café Sigar and Zondag, the bistrot located in the middle of Noorderplantsoen.
His store is not the only one that is struggling. Many retailers have been grappling with the difficult alternative of whether to pass on the surged costs to consumers, whose purchasing power is already stagnant and confidence low, or to close down their business.
“Some shops that have survived the pandemic-era due to government support will now find out that their market is insufficient for their long-term viability,” explains Adriaan Soetevent, professor of microeconomics at the university of Groningen.
According to economic figures, “closure rates have been low by historical standards” in the past years, but this is a phenomenon bound to end very soon. More stores will need to face the tough choice whether or not they should shut their doors, especially those “energy-intense retailers, such as independent fast-food stores or bakeries,” says prof. Soetevent.
Jurjen Smeek, 37, posing inside his wine shop in Astraat 13
The energy price cap that has come into effect as of 2023 does apply solely to households, leaving local business owners wondering if the government will ever address it. “That’s a major problem for retailers,” says Jurjen.
Wine runs in Jurjen’s blood: when he opened his shop back in 2013, he followed in his father’s footsteps, who already had a wine shop just like this one, in a small village in the province.
“I will miss some things,” he says with a hint of nostalgia. “I loved these big windows, which let a lot of sunlight in and I loved watching people passing by during summertime”.