The ‘death of the High Street’ has been mooted for years. Mary Portas’ rally call for independents and regional towns was inspired, but it’s only now that the conversation seems to really be gathering pace as the big chains are also suffering. If you live in the South, you might have wondered what she was on about, until now.
The retail and leisure landscape is shifting quickly and we’re probably only at the beginning of the cycle. With it, eating out has grown in terms of frequency although total spend is down and the middle segment has suffered with the much written about closures of Prezzo, Frankie and Bennies and various Jamie Oliver offerings. Debenhams and House of Fraser’s troubles reverberate across the country. Amazon gets blamed a lot but it’s actually only part of larger shitstorm.
Rents went up or aren’t flexible enough. The exchange rate hasn’t been so good since Brexit. Labour costs went up and raw materials costs more. Maybe chains over expanded. Perhaps it really is true that Amazon is coming for you whether you’re an independent retailer or a department store. Maybe we’ve all just got less to spend. Or maybe we’re all just a bit bored and it’s time for something different.
We can point to any number of things but the truth is that, as with any age in history, there are also huge societal shifts happening across the country. Driven by economics, politics, technology, business, tastes and the influence of generational differences.
These are naturally driving changes in leisure, retail and eating out. Some brands have come a cropper, whilst new entrants are riding the wave. Independents in the restaurant trade are flourishing. People will always want a life offline, it’s just that the tenant mix for high streets and developments today will not be that of tomorrow. How people use the high street will change. Bill Grimey’s excellent The Grimsey Review 2 offers plenty of both visionary and practical ideas here.
Maybe the woes of these big chains are not so bad for our high streets if it allows towns to celebrate more homegrown talent, making the most of what makes them unique and interesting.