Located on the Jurassic Coast in Devon, the picturesque seaside town of Sidmouth is a paradise for tourists.
With a backdrop of red sandstone cliffs, its beautiful beach and the bustling High Street attract thousands of families each year.
But locals say that the historic area runs the risk of becoming a ghost town if its stores continue to close at the current rate.
Already this year, three have closed their doors or announced plans to do so. Many more say they are close to the breaking point.
Closing the store: Alan Morgenroth is closing Govier & # 39; s in Sidmouth, which opened in 1904
Traders say that while the problems of local car parking and competition from online rivals are partly responsible, one of the biggest problems they face is the stalling of commercial rates.
Eighteen months ago, changes in business rates led to higher bills for more than half a million stores, restaurants and pubs.
Following a public outcry, government ministers quickly drew up plans for an aid package of £ 435 million.
But many businesses say that the help never reached them, or that it was not enough to save them. The Government states that, for most stores, the reorganization of last year's rates did not result in changes or even reduced invoices.
But it is estimated that more than 8,000 High Street stores have closed in the last 18 months, with one in eight store units in England and Wales that are now empty.
In Britain's worst affected High Streets, activists say that independent stores are falling "like dominoes" as punitive rates force them to close.
Today, as Money Mail reveals the true scale of the crisis, we renew our call for a major overhaul of the past due rate.
114-year-old store forced to close.
The Govier & # 39; s porcelain goods store, which opened in Sidmouth in 1904, is expected to close by the end of the year.
The store, which has operated for 114 years, has had losses in recent times. Henceforth, it has decided to operate only online and through a mail order catalog.
Alan Morgenroth, who has owned the store for 34 years, says the high commercial fees are partly responsible for his decision to close the doors.
The Govier porcelain store opened in Sidmouth in 1904. It is expected to close by the end of the year.
The business rates are based on the income that a property could generate hypothetically if it were rented, a calculation estimated by the Agency of the Valuation Office.
But critics say this punishes small stores in areas where property prices have skyrocketed in recent years, especially in the beautiful market towns.
Alan currently pays £ 9,818 a year in business rates, up from the £ 8,816 he paid in 2012.
Alan, 60, says: "It's devastating to close, we're one of the few truly independent stores left in Sidmouth.
It's devastating to close, we're one of the few truly independent stores left in Sidmouth
"I have no problems with charity stores (which are exempt from 80% to 100% of business rates), but Sidmouth is now known as the" capital of the Southwestern charity store. "
"The government has done very little to support the High Street stores, then you have online businesses, which may not be giants like Amazon, but they can operate from a back room and do not have to pay these fees.
"They can undermine us and offer the same items at lower prices," he adds.
The butcher paying £ 2,000 more than five years ago.
Stewart Hayman, 67, says his 111-year-old family butchery made "virtually no" profits last year after a huge increase in business rates
Stewart Hayman, 67, says his 111-year-old family butcher shop earned "virtually zero" profits last year after a huge increase in business rates.
It pays £ 7,800 per year, approximately £ 2,000 more than five years ago.
Stewart, who has worked at Hayman & # 39; s Butchers for 51 years, says: "On Church Street we are one of the two businesses that actually pay fees." Many of the other companies are charity stores, "he says.
"I think if we did not own the building and we were paying the rent above all these costs, we would not be here."
John Wycherley, 64, and his wife Jeannie have run Sidmouth Gifts for five of the 40 years the store has been open. In 2015, property owners paid £ 5,950 per year in business rates. This year, they must disburse £ 7,738.
John says: "The entire system must be changed so that the rates are based on income, rather than on the value of the property.
"Internet-based companies like Amazon get away with not paying these high fees, while High Street stores have to pay the bill."
"Areas like ours tend to have higher values that can be compared due to property (market)." Sidmouth is a wealthy area full of second homes and retirees who worked in London. "
In April 2017, the Government made the first revaluation in seven years of the ratifiable value of the stores, the rental value on which the commercial rates are based.
But while three-quarters of the companies saw their bills fall or remain the same, some were affected by the annual increase of thousands of pounds.
According to research compiled for the accounting giant PwC, an average of 16 High Street stores closed every day in 2017.
This means that approximately 8,400 stores have been closed since the rates were re-evaluated last April.
According to PwC data, there were substantially more closures in the second half of last year, after changes in the business rate, compared to the first half of the year.
Where is the help they promised?
After a great reaction against the reorganization of tariffs, the government revealed plans for an emergency package of £ 435 million. It offered payments for four years for those stores that face the largest increases.
That included a £ 300 million pot that the boards could distribute at their discretion to smaller and struggling businesses.
The government claims to have helped small stores with the rates, but Goviers owner Alan Morgenroth currently pays £ 9,818 a year, compared to the £ 8,816 he paid in 2012.
The Treasury seemed unable to tell Money Mail exactly how much of this fund has been delivered so far.
But last year's Freedom of Information figures show that 300 days after the promise of money, tens of millions of pounds had not yet been distributed.
It was expected that a total of £ 175 million from the £ 300 million well would be allocated at the end of March.
However, last December, only 56 percent, or £ 98 million, had been given away, according to Freedom of Information requests from property consultant Gerald Eve LLP.
Alan Hawkins, executive director of the British Association of Independent Retailers, says: "It's hard and, in the last 18 months, it's gotten worse."
"Internet sales continue to advance, while traditional stores are paying billions to the government in an unfair tax.
"It's a ridiculous burden on bricks and mortar.
In an apparent recognition that some would be greatly affected, the smallest pubs in Britain were given a £ 1,000 discount on their fare bill.
But the publicans say that this does not go far enough. According to the British Association of Beers and Pubs, 1,560 pubs have closed since the last revaluation of business rates.
"The discretionary fund does not seem to be delivered correctly and many small independent retailers do not even know it's something they can request."
This week, the former head of Wickes and Iceland, Bill Grimsey, issued a stern warning that the future of the High Street has now reached a "turning point" and called for business rates to be "divided".
He said that 2018 "had seen the worst performance in many years for High Street retailers."
The government has said that any increase in fees was introduced gradually to help businesses.
Campaign to support British bookstores.
Other industries say they should get the same help as pubs.
Hazel Broadfoot has been owner of Village Books for more than 21 years, but in the last eight years her business rates have quadrupled
This summer, the Booksellers Association launched a campaign for the government to recognize the value of the bookstore community by providing the same relief from the business rates enjoyed by pubs.
The association says that business rates are "one of the biggest and most problematic costs for bookstores, which are already running at very small margins."
A Daunt Books branch in Marylebone, in central London, for example, received a 100% increase, equivalent to an increase of £ 56,000. The company has seven of its nine stores in the capital.
The invoice of the commercial rates for Waterstones increased by £ 2 million, or approximately 20 percent of its gain of £ 9.8 million from the previous year.
Nic Bottomley, president of the Booksellers' Association, says: "Business fees are a huge burden for too many bookstores, and bookstores give the High Street vitality at a time when they are under constant threat."
Hazel Broadfoot has owned Village Books in Dulwich, southeast London for more than 21 years, but in the last eight years her business rates have quadrupled. The bookseller once paid £ 2,000 a year, but will soon face fees of up to £ 8,000, after last year's revaluation.
"When I saw the numbers, I thought it was monumentally unfair," she says.
He currently pays £ 2,000 because he receives a reduction of £ 4,000 in temporary relief and an additional £ 2,000 discount in relief for small businesses.
But Hazel will receive her transition relief only until 2022, and she fears that the additional increases could have a serious impact on her 90-year business.
"I know that the transition relief will not last forever and that I will eventually have to pay more," she says.
"I am a local employer and would not want to lose any of my employees, but if this continues, there will be questions to ask," she says.
The councils summon the deputies
Some councils have been accused of harassing merchants who do not make a payment by sending justice officials.
Jerry Schurder, head of business fees at Gerald Eve LLP, says: "The boards seem to be more aggressive at the moment and have an enforcement focus for law enforcement when stores have difficulties."
The bailiffs have been sent to more than 81,000 companies in the last year on unpaid business rates, according to research conducted by Altus Group management consultants.
It is said that local authorities pursue businesses in distress with more fervor than before because they now share a portion of the cash they collect.
Under the previous rules, they simply collected the money on behalf of the central government. But since 2012, the councils have been able to maintain half of the high commercial rates in their area.
Shahjahan Janshah has owned his convenience store in Cricklewood, north of London, for 18 years. But, last week, the city councilor of 48 years visited the councilman when he could not keep up with the increasing business rates.
Shahjahan, a father of five children, paid around £ 4,440 a year in rates for Pound Village in 2003, but this cost has risen to £ 8,000.
He says that a combination of rising business rates and the construction of scaffolding near his facilities, which damaged the passage, has left him unable to meet his payments to the Barnet Council.
You feel that the council should be taking care of local businesses, not outsourcing expensive sheriffs who charge high compliance rates in addition to debt
The sheriffs visited him two weeks ago demanding £ 6,398, including a compliance fee of £ 75 and £ 500 in compliance costs.
He says: "I have a wife and a family to support." He feels that the council should be taking care of local businesses, not subcontracting senior officials who charge high compliance rates, "he says.
"This type of hikes (business rates) are forcing small businesses out."
In the end, Shahjahan kept the sheriffs at bay by making a partial payment with his credit card.
A Barnet Council spokesperson says: "We value the importance of small businesses very much, and if they experience difficulties, we will always try to reach a reasonable agreement, which allows them to pay the money in a manageable way.
"Referral to a debt collection agency is always a last resort, but the board has the legal responsibility to collect the business fees due."
Addressed: Alan Hawkins of BIRA says he fears the High Street will become unrecognizable if it does not receive a life preserver
Ascent of the cafeterias
According to the British Association of Independent Retailers (BIRA), store sales fell 1.05 percent in the year since the introduction of changes in commercial rates.
BIRA says the figures reflect the damage that is being done to High Street. In their latest sales report, members described business rates as "totally unfair," "archaic," and "a killer to pay."
One member wrote: "We were affected by the 80 percent rate increase and now the parking costs in our city are being considerably high.
"We are not sure how long the High Street can endure all these unfair and hidden taxes."
Alan Hawkins of BIRA says he fears the High Street will become unrecognizable if it does not receive a life preserver.
He says: "The high streets will be for the places you must visit in person, such as nail salons and cafeterias, and stores that sell products will survive online only if we do not help them."
According to commercial property consultants Colliers International, the percentage of empty stores in the United Kingdom has increased by 9% since the revaluation of the rate, with one in eight stores now empty.
The amount of empty space has also increased by 21 percent in the year through April.
John Webber, head of business rates at Colliers International, says: "The crisis in business rates has left many retailers dry."
A government spokesman says: "We have introduced more than 10 billion pounds in support of commercial rates to help our main streets, so many bricks and mortar businesses now pay no fees."
"However, we recognize that this is still a difficult time for the main streets and urban centers, which is why we have appointed a panel of experts from industry leaders, with a survey to be launched later this year, to diagnose the problems that currently affect our High Streets, and advise on the best long-term approach to help their reactivation. "