High street’s have long been the nations go to place to peruse the offerings of their local and not so local community. A place to grab coffee with a friend or go looking around to treat yourself to goods or services, they have served almost all of us at one point of another and are looked upon fondly.
However, whilst principally they are an asset few of us would actively decide to rid ourselves from, the stats tell us another story entirely. In 2019, Britain’s top 500 high streets saw the closure of over 2,400 stores in 2018 alone, and with 82% of us now shopping online it is easy to see why.
Big cities have especially been hit by this with an overwhelming majority of us preferring the comfort of our couch to the cold, dreary weather of Britain with a concrete backdrop. Manchester specifically has been hit by a wicked wave of bad luck, especially with coronavirus, it really isn’t looking good.
In fact, it is so poor that Manchester’s high street has been declared as one of the bottom 10 in the whole of the UK as far as footfall is concerned. Once the initial lockdown had ended, many people suspected that there would be a lot less people rushing back to the high streets and for the most part they were right. Nobody could have predicted that Manchester saw the return of only 34% of it’s usual footfall, almost 2/3rds of shoppers actively chose not to return to the streets of Manchester for their purchasing needs.
Well at this point it feels like a tale as old as time, “The high street is dying, the internet is taking over” has been a sentiment echoed for years now, but it never really has died. Well some experts believe this is pretty typical of the situation, for bigger cities to be in the bottom 10 of returning footfall and here’s why. The justification goes something to the effect of how bigger cities tend to focus on commercial activity over residential activity, leading to a lot of accounting and soliciting firms, work that can be done from home.
Office workers made up a large portion of the high streets custom, with those working from home or otherwise, that is a lot of trade gone. The other issue with bigger cities, is you are typically paying a lot more for things like rent on buildings, government grants were typically geared more towards very small businesses, but mid-sized ones who would be based in the city centre wouldn’t receive these. Here is what Subrahmaniam Krishnan Harihara, the Head of Research at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce has to say “One of the things that we came across early on was hospitality businesses telling us that if the two metre social distancing rule recommended at the time were to be strictly imposed, then they wouldn’t be able to serve enough customers to be able to make enough money so sustain their operations, so it was actually easier to keep the business closed,”
Another interesting point is the idea of the “shop local” narrative, this was brought up by high street guru Graham Soult. “When you look at the top ten, all of the high streets are places which you’d probably think are some of the town centres that are most at risk. “What we’re seeing is these smaller or less glamorous centres closer to where people live are actually doing better, partly off the back of more people who live in those places working from home.”
So instead of commuting to work in the city everyday and shopping there, people are instead working from home and as such whenever they grab a lunch or a coffee, they are doing around the places that are local to them. This helps to bolster the local economy but as it is done on such a wide scale, it is managing to really hit big city high streets.
It is clear to see that Manchester’s high street has seen much better days, however, with these insights from the professionals, perhaps this isn’t the end people think it is, once all restrictions are entirely removed, office workers will come back into the city and may be able to revive the high street once and for all.
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