A cherished pub considered a community asset by its regulars has closed down to make way for a Tesco convenience store – the fourth within a three-mile radius.
The Royal Stag in Highfield, Hemel Hempstead, was shut by its managing brewery the Spirit Pub Company on Sunday evening.
A spokesman for the company said: “Following a review of this site we have identified that the long term potential of the business as a pub is limited. We have therefore taken the decision to close the pub.”
The company said it had given a year’s notice although the pub’s current landlord, who spoke to the Gazette but did not wish to be quoted, has only been at the venue since September and believes there was little notice given to him.
Spirit declined to comment further, though Tesco confirmed it has bought the site with the intention of opening an Express store.
The supermarket giant already has an existing convenience store in nearby Grovehill, with the larger Tesco Extra store just two miles away in Jarman Way as well as another Tesco Express in the town centre.
The pub on Fletcher Way was opened in the early 1960s, with punter Ken Sears one of the first to sip a pint at the bar.
Now 80, Ken, of Allandale, says he relies upon the tavern as a nearby social amenity and spends a couple of hours there most evenings.
He said: “As an OAP with limited mobility, it means a lot to me because I can’t walk far.
“I can only just about make it up there, but more important than that, it’s a community pub.
“It needed refurbishing and a restaurant to keep it up to date with modern pubs, not just closing down.
“It seems like they have just pushed us customers out with a blindfold on, and we don’t know what to do.”
Another regular Karen Gooding said: “The Royal Stag holds a special place in my heart – it became my comfort zone since losing my husband in March 2010. It’s a really communal pub and it has the most caring staff you could ask for.
“The pub held all sorts of events for the Hospice of St Francis, local children’s charities and more. I’m devastated.”
Former landlady from 2010 to 2014 Jaqui LeBrun is also saddened by news of the pub’s closure.
She said: “It’s a loss to the community in Highfield. We raised thousands for charity and lots of events for OAPs. If you’re just a small local pub no-one seems to care these days – it’s a real, real shame.”
The regulars and former barmaid at the Royal Stag Elly Hosier have also raised concerns about the impact another Tesco could have on the Bellgate parade of shops, directly opposite the now-empty pub.
Elly, who worked at the pub for two years, said: “It’s been a massive part of our community for more than 50 years. To have not had any say in its closure has rattled quite a few cages, and obviously this will have a massive impact on the shops opposite.”
Elly says a petition against the closure has already garnered 200 signatures, but a Tesco spokesman said of the deal: “We look forward to bringing forward a new store and are proud to be investing in the local area.
“We are confident that a new store would provide choice for our customers and we will be updating the local community on our progress.”
Dacorum Borough Council confirmed that planning permission would not be required for the change of use of the pub to a shop, though any proposed building work or redevelopment proposed would require consultation to be carried out, and the proposals would be considered on planning merits.