Local entrepreneur tells story of how ‘COVID-19 nearly sunk me’
IT’S taken six years from concept to completion and a £1million investment – but Lyme Regis entrepreneur Larry Gibbons’ plans for his ten-bedroom holiday accommodation development in Coombe Street was nearly scuppered by COVID-19.
On the day that Larry, who also owns the popular Largigi café and Thai restaurant on Marine Parade, had planned to open his new Largigi Rooms, Boris Johnson announced lockdown.
And then to add to his woes, a land dispute at the rear of the Largigi Rooms delayed the opening by a further month because it impacted on his fire exit with bookings having to be cancelled.
The double-delay cost Larry “a considerable sum” and he admits it could have been a mortal blow having no income for such a long period after the huge investment in the project.
After the fire escape issue was finally settled, Larry was able to open for business and the ten-room complex – five bedrooms accommodating two people and five for families of four – are proving extremely popular, fully booked most nights and helping to address the lack of rooms in the town.
The development also has the added attraction of garage parking for all rooms, a huge asset in Lyme Regis where parking is at a premium.
Larry will admit it has not been an easy journey. But opening new businesses in high profile locations in a seaside resort is fraught with planning difficulties.
He will also admit he is not your usual businessman. “I’m the type that sees a gap in the market and then I go for it,” he said. “I am definitely not your normal 9 to 5 man.”
Having lived in the West Country since 1972, Larry firs came to Lyme in 2002 when he acquired the old Bay Hotel on Marine Parade.
He found the building in an appalling state with 20 bedrooms but no views at the rear. So he converted it into ten suites and ran the Bay for six months before selling the property after he was refused planning permission to convert the building into apartments.
This was his first experience of how “Lyme jealously” protected its landmarks and he was faced with a 1,000 signature petition to keep it as an hotel. But it was not financially viable to do so.
Larry retained the annexe of the Bay, which previously accommodated the hotel’s snooker room, and set about building residential accommodation in its place.
The plans to do so caused another furore because it was felt the design wasn’t in keeping with the area but, in the end, permission was secured and the development won an international architectural award.
Larry also opened the Largigi café and the Thai restaurant below and sought permission for al-fresco dining with tables on a section of the parade.
Since then he has been fighting a long campaign with Lyme Regis Town Council over the cost of allowing tables outside which, he claims, is higher than any other result in the country.
Larry secured the support of other seafront traders who wanted tables on the seafront to withhold their payments and fight their case. In the end, Larry was the only seafront trader to withdraw payment and recently a court case judged in favour of the town council. It was a fight that cost him another “significant sum” in lawyers’ fees.
Larry says he is now trying to build a “trusting and businesslike” relationship with the town council, but he was disappointed with how the issue over the land at the rear of his new Largigi Rooms had been handled, especially as the lease LRTC had with the owners of the land, Dorset Council, had expired.
The Largigi Rooms were designed by Stuart Case, renowned for his use of wood and eco-friendly developments. The complex is built on the site of the garage once owned by the Bay Hotel.
Formerly it was the town bus depot going back many years and then the home of Lyme Regis Engineering run by the late George Burgess.
For full details on Largigi Rooms and the café and Thai restaurant, visit https://largigi.com/