Prospects Improving on the High Street

The first drop for three years in the number of empty high street shops and restaurants has been highlighted in a new report. The decline is the first time the number of vacancies has fallen since 2018, leading to suggestions that a post-covid recovery could soon be on its way.

According to research by the Local Data Company the national vacancy rate for all shops fell by 0.1% in the second half of 2021 to reach 14.4%. A fall of 0.3% in shopping centre vacancy rates was also revealed.

The number of high street closures has been made worse by the collapse of many well-known brands, with Peacocks, Jaeger and parent group Edinburgh Woollen Mill, as well as Debenhams, Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Burton, Bon Marche, Miss Selfridge and M&Co all going under. In total more than 17,500 chain store outlets closed permanently in 2020, not to mention countless small, independent shops, restaurants and bars. Rising rents as well as increasing online purchasing habits had already put High Streets in difficulties. Long periods of restricted trading during the pandemic then proved too much for independent businesses and retail groups alike.

The Local Data Company reported a drop from 11.3% to 11% in the number of empty properties in the leisure sector, the biggest reduction since records began in 2013. Although large numbers of dining and drinking venues suffered during the pandemic lockdowns, the easing of restrictions and falling rents have seen many restaurants and bars reopening as customers look to socialise freely again. The report states that fast-food outlets showed the biggest recovery in the first half of 2021, with a national gain of 333 retail units over the previous six months. Fast food was closely followed by convenience stores, with an increase of 332 units, and barbers shops, with an additional 318 units over the second half of 2020.

Referencing the improving figures, Lucy Stainton, commercial director of the Local Data Company said that the numbers “finally point to a reversal of the structural decline we had seen accelerate with the onset of the pandemic.” Summarising the report, she added: “With many chains relooking at their strategy for growth, the independent sector proving buoyant and an unprecedented level of repurposing and redevelopment, we could be seeing the start of a new phase of physical retailing.”

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