ST JOHN’S ROAD could be about to lose one of its most recognisable buildings after the owner of the cycle café, the Velo House announced he will be looking to redevelop the premises.
Oliver Stephens who, alongside his wife, set up the multi-purpose store in 2013, is seeking to tear down the existing building and replace it with five storey building that will accommodate five apartments and a commercial unit.
Mr Stephens said the Velo House, which consists of a licenced café, a cycle workshop and a bike retail section, has ‘struggled’ over the past 34 months in its current location.
The store occupies a former Victorian era Bank the intersection of St John’s Road, Grosvenor Road and Mount Ephraim.
Increased competition, the devaluation of sterling – which has made many of his products more expensive – and difficulty getting footfall means the business has not turned a profit since opening.
Money from the proceeds of the redevelopment will be used to ‘show a return to investors and the banks who have financed the business’, Mr Stephens explained. An application has been submitted and could be decided by mid-May.
However, to the relief of his regular customers and cycle enthusiasts, the proprietor has not completely given up on the business model and is instead seeking more suitable premises for the Velo House.
He said: “We are looking to see if there is a better site for us and we have a couple of ideas. But it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, as we need to know if it is viable to develop the current site before we can move into somewhere else.
“If we move we will concentrate on the areas which have worked well for us, such as incorporating a larger kitchen and workshop. We have had three years of experience now and we know what works and what doesn’t.”
Mr Stephens would not be drawn on the future of the business if planning permission was declined.
Adrian Berendt of The Tunbridge Wells Bicycle Users Group, believes the difficulties being faced by the Velo House are ‘not indicative’ of a decline in cycling as a mode of transport.
But he added: “There are many places which focus on sports biking and perhaps enthusiasm for that has peaked. But in terms of people using a bike simply to get from one place to another that seems to still be increasing.”