Over the course of 2017 we saw the closure of a number main high street chains, most notably BHS. This has continued into 2018 with the recent closure of Toys r Us and Maplin, whilst other big names are reporting that it will be a financially difficult year ahead.
Many of these retailers reported a severe drop in sales over the Christmas period, and the most significant cause of this is thought to be movement off the high street to shopping online. This, along with increased additional costs such as business rates, particularly in central London, has made it difficult for many stores to make a profit.
One of the first signs that the internet was taking services away from the high street was the drop in the number of banks, travel agents and similar services, which originally dominated local high streets. As the amount of on-line shopping continues to increase, the scaremongers out there are already shouting that this is the end of the beloved high street and we will just be left with rows of vacant shop fronts and no activity.
The alternative is that we will see a change in type of retailer, which will evolve further away from the traditional shop. The first part of this high street evolution is already apparent as the number of coffee shops, hairdressers and beauty salons, restaurants and gyms is increasing. This indicates that the high street moving away from being a location to do your weekly shopping and becoming more of an activity based, leisure destination.
Davis Brown Commercial Agents have been marketing several retail units on Kentish Town Road, which is becoming an increasingly popular location. The variety of interest has been broad ranging from restaurants to gym use, whereas interest has not been as high for a more traditional shop use. One new arrival to Kentish Town is Gail’s Bakery, which indicates that the area is becoming increasingly fashionable. It was vital that Gail’s attained planning permission for part A3 (restaurant) use, allowing them to attract more customers into the store. This is now not uncommon as the high street is now starting to attract a different type of shopper.
As larger retail units, often old banking premises, become vacant many have been considered opportunities for setting up fitness centres, health spas and such like. Historically, this has not been the case, but maybe this is the direction many high streets will take in the future?
The BHS flagship store on Oxford Street closed last year, leaving 36,000 square feet of vacant retail space! Plans are now for it to be converted into the biggest food hall in London. This is to include 25 restaurants, 4 bars, numerous food stalls, event space and even a demo kitchen! Could this be a glimpse into the future of how revitalisation of the high street will cater to a new generation whose hard-earned cash is better spent on activities and time with friends rather than on material goods (which are now often cheaper and easier to purchase online)?