BARONS Quay has responded following the news that a board game café and comic book shop has been forced to shut.

Geek Retreat has had its stock seized by bailiffs after failing to pay rent arrears accumulated during the Covid lockdowns.

It is alleged the store has made just one rent payment since opening in 2020, a claim franchise owners Callum Franchetti and Kyle Preece categorically deny.

Barons Quay is owned by Cheshire West and Chester Council, with estate agents Savills acting as the landlord's agent and managing the centre on behalf of the council.

“The council has been told by the landlord that Geek Retreat have only made one single payment of rent since occupying the premises in 2020,” said a spokesperson for Barons Quay.

“We have been informed that Savills have made repeated requests for outstanding rent since 2020 but they have not been responded to, which is why the landlord has taken action.

“As part of support during the Covid pandemic, the council provided Geek Retreat with rent support, including a rent-free period. Geek Retreat has also received money from the Covid additional restrictions grant, designed to help with costs such as rent, but rent continued to be unpaid. Most of the debt under discussion does not relate to the Covid period.

“It is very sad when companies get into financial difficulty and the council will continue to provide help and business support where possible, as it did with Geek Retreat.

"However, the council has a responsibility to residents and businesses to collect payments that are due to help fund essential services that communities rely on.

"Occupancy at Barons Quay has improved, most recently with the news of two new tenants coming to Barons Quay in the form of Gasworks and Wild Tots.

"The council continues to work hard to ensure that Barons Quay is an attractive retail and leisure destination for the people of Northwich and beyond to enjoy, supported by a fantastic set of businesses."

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Northwich Guardian: Geek Retreat franchise owners Callum Franchetti and Kyle Preece Geek Retreat franchise owners Callum Franchetti and Kyle Preece (Image: Geek Retreat)

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Geek Retreat owners Kyle and Callum say there are 'many inaccuracies and misrepresentations' in what the Barons Quay statement.

They claim they have made 'several payments under an agreed upon payment plan' and that the rent-free period was agreed upon when they signed the tenancy in November 2019, before Covid was a factor, as a way of helping the business grow.

This period then began at the end of the first lockdown in 2020, when the store was unable to operate its business model due to restrictions.

They also claim the council did not correctly assess their rateable value as a business, meaning they received far less financial support during the pandemic than they should have.

Northwich Guardian: Bailiffs began seizing stock over the weekendBailiffs began seizing stock over the weekend (Image: Geek Retreat)

Callum and Kyle said: "The callous and unforgiving nature of this response I'm sorry to say does not surprise us, as it is indicative of the stance of both Cheshire West and Chester Council and Savills throughout.

"We have made all efforts to come to a reasonable compromise with Savills and the council, but until now they seem unwilling to budge in any meaningful way.

"They speak of 'essential services that communities rely on' which I'm sure to them is just a nicely worded soundbite to attempt to show solidarity with the town.

"In the past few days we have been overwhelmed with how much Geek Retreat actually means to the town, from the people it directly benefits. Hopefully in any future responses, they could consider that."