In­de­pen­dents and ex­pe­ri­ences are route to high street suc­cess

Gloucestershire Echo - - BUSINESS - » Join the de­bate and stay up to date by fol­low­ing us on Face­book @Gloslive on­line Jessica MERCER [email protected]­

IT’S no se­cret that Glouces­ter has seen tur­bu­lent times on the high street in 2019. As rates rise and con­sumer spend­ing sinks in the city cen­tre, the city’s gate streets are strug­gling to meet the de­mands of the cur­rent cli­mate.

The high street cri­sis has hit ci­ties across the UK, and nearly 30 shops have closed in Glouces­ter since 2000, eight in 2019 alone.

Busi­nesses such as Patis­serie Valerie, HMV and Hudson & Co Sports are just a few the city has lost this year.

How­ever, sev­eral city busi­nesses have man­aged to weather the shop­ping storm.

Ja­son Smith, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Mar­ket­ing Glouces­ter said that the re­cent dip in foot­fall is mostly due to im­mi­nent ren­o­va­tions.

He said: “Over­all city foot­fall fig­ures are up on 2018, but that takes into ac­count a big rise in foot­fall at Glouces­ter Quays and on South­gate Street.

“Foot­fall is slightly down in East­gate Street and King’s Walk due to the re­fur­bish­ment.

“Last year across the city vis­i­tor num­bers rose by four per cent which is testimony to the growth of the city as a vis­i­tor desti­na­tion and the ef­fects of the re­gen­er­a­tion.”

An ap­pli­ca­tion to the UK gov­ern­ment’s Fu­ture High Streets Fund in May 2019 by Glouces­ter City Coun­cil ex­plained that the high streets seem to be floun­der­ing be­cause of a lack of va­ri­ety, too many units over too wide an area and not enough in­de­pen­dents.

Although the ap­pli­ca­tion was not suc­cess­ful, Coun­cil­lor Paul James, who led the bid, has played a key role in the re­fur­bish­ment of Glouces­ter’s High Street, in­clud­ing the King’s Square ren­o­va­tion.

He said: “Be­cause of the in­ter­net, the high street is not just about shop­ping any more. To draw peo­ple into the city, we have to make it an ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Town cen­tres and city cen­tres should be com­mu­nity hubs, not just re­tail hubs.”

Mr James, in­set, saw the solutions af­ter vis­it­ing Roe­se­lare, in Bel­gium, which “re-en­er­gised” its high street af­ter a “mas­sive” slump.

He said the coun­cil is try­ing to mimic this suc­cess with mea­sures such as fines for lit­ter, events such as the His­tory Fes­ti­val and good value park­ing.

Although he re­alised that rent in the city cen­tre was tough on shop­keep­ers, he said the coun­cil tries to help busi­nesses with “small re­liefs”.

“The coun­cil has taken an ac­tive role in pro­mot­ing the evolution of the city cen­tre in­clud­ing re­gen­er­at­ing our main shop­ping cen­tre in part­ner­ship with the pri­vate sec­tor.

“I envy the pow­ers of our coun­ter­parts in Europe. In Roe­se­lare they fine land­lords for hav­ing long-term empty prop­er­ties but sweeten the pill with grants for new busi­nesses.

“In the UK some land­lords get hit with empty rates bills while oth­ers in listed build­ings don’t, giv­ing them lit­tle in­cen­tive to bring them back into use.”

Mr James also ac­knowl­edged that Glouces­ter is in com­pe­ti­tion with places such as Chel­tenham and Worces­ter.

He said: “We have to level the play­ing field. But that doesn’t mean mak­ing Glouces­ter the same as Chel­tenham.”

He cited events such as Glouces­ter Goes Retro as a way for the city’s high street to show how vi­brant it can be.

Glouces­ter An­tiques has been in the city for nearly 40 years. Di­rec­tor Mick Cant thinks the shop has been around so long be­cause there is con­tin­ual de­mand for a unique item.

He said: “The price of most col­lecta­bles is slashed on the in­ter­net so the things you’d pay £60 for 15 years ago cost £15-£20 to­day.”

Although the an­tiques mar­ket faces these chal­lenges, Mr Cant said that its cus­tomer base has re­mained largely the same over the years: “Chil­dren are still in­volved in coin col­lect­ing and that is grow­ing. Records and comics bought by younger peo­ple keep the mar­ket en­gaged.

“Scrolling down a screen doesn’t com­pare to pick­ing up and touch­ing [an ob­ject].

“I hope that this will lead Glouces­ter An­tiques into the fu­ture.”

Mark Cooke, chef and co-owner of Cookes Cafe on West­gate Street, has been in Glouces­ter for four years. He said the high street is go­ing through a “re­gen­er­a­tion”.

“We are quite hard on our­selves [in Glouces­ter],” he said. “Peo­ple moan when they see an­other cof­fee shop, or an­other pound shop.

“I think it’s great that we’re com­mu­nity-minded here - we need cafes to meet up, chat and com­mu­ni­cate.”

But how do independen­t busi­nesses find a place on the high street with com­pe­ti­tion from chain stores?

Mr Cooke says: “Re­tail in Glouces­ter has to cel­e­brate in­di­vid­u­al­ity . We try to sell­ing some­thing that the big boys don’t.

“We can af­ford to sell the lat­est ve­gan stuff right away whereas the chains have to wait. You have to come into town to buy that be­spoke item that you can’t get any­where else.”

The shoe retailer AG Meek has been on Glouces­ter’s West­gate Street for 54 years. Shoe re­pair­man Dean Jones said that the shop’s prod­ucts go be­yond the chain brands and cheap web­sites, with wed­ding guests prov­ing a big clien­tele for his match­ing shoes and bags.

But Mr Jones said: “The rates are ex­pen­sive in town, the build­ing premises are too much to rent. [New high street busi­nesses] set up shop but have to close be­cause the rates go up ev­ery year.” How­ever, he has seen sus­tained en­thu­si­asm for lo­cal busi­nesses in the high street that keep places like AG Meeks afloat: “Peo­ple bring their shoes to be re­paired here in­stead of go­ing to chains be­cause they want to sup­port in­de­pen­dents.”

Pic­ture by An­drew Hig­gins/ Thou­sand Word Me­dia

Thou­sands of peo­ple pour into the city cen­tre to see events like the last month’s Glouces­ter Goes Retro fes­ti­val.

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