Road to ruin?

A71 closure has left Polbeth Spar retailer Denis McCormack struggling to keep his business afloat.

AFTER 35 years of investment and development, Denis McCormack says he is in a fight for survival at his Spar forecourt store in the West Lothian village of Polbeth.

Denis McCormack fears for the future of his business following the partial closure of the A71, which has left his forecourt and shop isolated.

Road works have been affecting trade at his store since July last year but when a planned diversion route was scrapped by Network rail towards the end of the year in favour of a road closure his business was dealt what could be a killer blow.

And now, trading at a loss for the last month and facing another three months of strife, Denis and his brother William are having to dip into the shop’s investment fund to keep it afloat.
Network Rail is electrifying the line that passes through Polbeth and West Calder on its way from Edinburgh to Glasgow. A part of the project, a bridge close to Denis’s store on the A71 is being raised to accommodate overhead lines, and the decision was taken to close a section of the road.

Denis said: “This arrangement has effectively isolated the village of Polbeth. Every business here and in West Calder has been affected.”
But Denis said his business, which employs 17 staff, has been hit hardest of all.

He said sales have declined every week since the road closed on 5 January and hit their lowest level yet in the first weekend of February when it was 60% down on similar trading periods.
Like every retail operation, the store is operating with fixed overheads, and with low margins and falling sales, Denis says he is now bringing in less than he is paying out. That has meant dipping into money the business had put aside for further expansion.
He explained: “We have money in the bank to re-invest in the business by installing a Subway food outlet. We’ve had to dip into that to keep the business afloat.”
Denis described dealing with Network Rail as hitting a ‘brick wall’, saying they point blank refuse to consider any kind of compensation package.

He said: “It is not about compensation. It’s about survival. We need help.”
West Lothian Council and local MSPs have been supportive. Angela Constance, Neil Findlay and Miles Briggs have all tried to help but even they are getting nowhere with Network Rail. Denis is now set to take his issues to transport secretary Humza Yousef, but fears irrevocable damage has been done.
The road is scheduled to reopen on 25 April then close again for tidying up work on and off until the middle of May. That means Denis could face another three months of sales dropping weekly.
He said: “If things carry on the way they are and we get no help it could put us out of business. We are in the black, we always have been, but our bank balance is being eroded.
“This is the only store we have, there is no other business to absorb the losses. This road closure is devastating and through dealing with Network Rail I now know what railroaded means.”

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• FOR retailers adversely affected by road works, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has offered some advice.
The ACS suggested four key actions retailers should take to best mitigate losses.
If the business is able to trade while road works are being carried out, ACS suggests increasing marketing activity; retailers should also collect evidence throughout the road works period to support a case for compensation; attempts should be made to gain support of other local businesses and local councillors; retailers should keep in communication with the local authority throughout.

• Issue affecting your business? Contact John McNee on 0141 567 6032 or to share your story.