Monday, 23 January 2017

Is retail being drawn to larger cities?

I went on a shopping trip to Leeds at the weekend and I was a little shocked to see how busy and vibrant it was on a week in late January (at the end of the Blue Monday week) when we are told that people have little or no money. It was cold. It was overcast and it looked like it was a typically British winter day. As the day went on the cold was added to by some drizzle yet there were still thousands upon thousands of people going about their shopping, eating in restaurants and sitting in coffee shops.

Contrast this to my local town which is deserted on a Saturday afternoon except a few men in and out of the bookies and the pubs.

So I thought back to other visits to big cities I have made recently and there is a definite trend emerging. The big cities are taking retail away from the small towns. I suppose it is inevitable if you think about it. The fact that a big city has ample parking, good transport routes and a huge choice of shops will always make it more attractive than a local small town. The fact that many cities (Leeds included) have developed the number of indoor shopping areas only adds to the attraction.

An ongoing trend?
There were so few vacant shops and people were out, even in that weather, selling on the streets. There were student demonstrations in different parts oft the city against eating meat and Donald Trump (surely there is a link there?) and this only added to the vibrancy of the city as a destination. Several coffee shops and cafes were full and were turning people away and some of the restaurants had long queues outside as people waited to be seated.

It all lead me to ask two questions-

  1. Is this something that will continue to happen?
  2. Is it something that we should embrace?
Let's take a look in more detail.

Is this something that will continue to happen
The short answer is - I can'y see why not. Having a local High Street that caters for people Monday to Friday while going to bigger and better shopping destinations on the weekend is something that will keep on rising in my opinion. The fact that retailers are happier to invest in places where they know they will generate a good footfall helps them to feel more secure.

A central location that offers more then just shops is another ideal for the visitor. I would happily spend the night in a hotel and do a weekend break somewhere like Leeds because there are museums, sports venues, concerts and other things going on all the time. It turns shopping into only a part of the reason to visit a city but an important part of it at the same time.

Is it something that we should embrace?
This blog has been set up to champion the High Street, so it may feel as though I am betraying my roots by proposing we abandon our local High Street on the weekend and trot off to our local city. But the High Street needs to evolve to survive. I think that there are destination High Streets and there are more functional High Streets. The first will be somewhere you go at the weekend while the latter is fine to pick up a few bits during the week and will survive well enough on that.

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