The view that high street retail has few days remaining and is an outdated form of sale has become a common trope in recent times and freely banded about by many. The difficulties encountered in falling footfall, increasing cost of parking, astronomic business rates and the all-consuming consumer favourite, online shopping, have made things harder in recent years. All of these factors have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, if you listened to the general opinion you would be right to think public apathy meant the imminent closure of the high street.
However, the recent weeks of frenzied trading show that this is not the case. Whilst the colossus that is Debenhams is falling and John Lewis is reviewing its presence of stores nationwide independent traders are being proactive and taking space and committing to leases. These small traders are making waves with innovation and agile business plans that will allow them to adjust and move with the market in a way that the retail leviathans cannot. This is the time for opportunists to focus on the local demand and fulfil it. It should also be noted that part of this growth is due to 100% rates relief currently enjoyed by those who are eligible.
In addition to the myriad of independent retailers we are beginning to see a fresh demand from new occupiers such as Brewdog who have recently set up in Queen Street bucking the trend this year and expanding their holdings. Other recent additions to the city centre include Taco Bell and German Doner Kebab, this is indicative of the confidence of the renewal of the high street and the future that lies ahead of it. The new focus on independent retailers and the wide variety of occupiers is a reaction to the fact that consumer demand changing. No longer do people want endless, faceless retail space and cheap prices, this is something they find online in the comfort of their own home. Venturing into the city is now a activity which they want to have please all the senses, they want a dynamic, human centric experience in which they feel that their purchase matters.
The revitalisation of the high street begins now. The changes in planning made at the end of last year meaning the change of use of property has become streamlined and now the possibility that we might see an end to business rates, currently being discussed in Westminster, this is the time for unabated optimism.
With the market being allowed to lead occupation and fewer restrictions we will see a wonderful mix of trades, uses and occupiers. An example of this reinvention is the Debenhams on Bedford St. gone are the days of the department store in regional cities but the prospect of a multi-use building is still alive. This time rather than a multitude of retailers leisure and lifestyle businesses are coming to the fore with the scheme for the Debenhams building encapsulating cinema, restaurant and bar meaning the property will be revitalised with the intention of creating a destination. This new growth drives footfall and benefits the retailers in the adjacent units.
What we are witnessing at this time is not the death of the high street but the evolution. The high street is dead – long live the high street! For insight and property advice for all retail matters in and around Exeter contact Tom Churchward at Stratton Creber Commercial.