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'The Great British' pub is flailing in midst of economic discontent

A cat watches passers-by from a pub window in central London February 27, 2013. 'Ray Brown' is the resident cat at the seventeenth century public house, 'The Seven Stars' in the legal district of London. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN - Tags: ANIMALS SOCIETY)

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By USA Today
Saturday, March 2, 2013, 6:54 p.m.

LONDON — With its comfy sofas, open fires, choice of beers on tap and clutch of regulars propping up the bar catching up on the local gossip, the Eagle pub in Battersea is as traditional an ale house as they come.

“It's a focal part of the community,” said Graham Hill, 65, a regular of the Victorian pub. “People of all ages can meet here, and you're a friend, not just a customer. It would be a great loss if it were to close.”

The Great British pub is forced out by financial troubles. Names like the King's Head, the White Hart and the Old Red Lion could be soon consigned to history books.

“What has always fascinated me is that when a shop closes there is sadness, but when a pub closes there is such an emotional reaction, people are outraged, even those who don't use the pub, because it is vital to a community's well-being,” said John Longden, chief executive of Pub is the Hub, a scheme spearheaded by Prince Charles, which helps landlords and local communities to revive ailing pubs.

Many pubs haven't been able to withstand the effects of the economic crisis and the supermarket booze, often sold at prices six times lower than in the pub.

The pubs are closing at a rate of 18 per week. Nearly 6,000 landlords having gone out of business in the last four years. Since 2008, the number of regular pubgoers in Britain has declined by 3 million.

A business model focused on short-term profit and above-inflation yearly tax increases on beer, known as the beer-escalator, has led to many pubs being unable to survive.

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