Retail’s new breed
While the high street strugglers close stores and restructure their businesses, a new crop of retailers are snapping up space on the high street. Fashion retailer Quiz clothing, stationery seller Smiggle and discount Danish design store Tiger have all been boosting their store estate. Landlords are also opting for more creative ways to put their retail space to work. Start-up Appear Here is helping them secure short-term leases with tenants, rather than allowing their units to sit empty. Chris Fowler, at the Local Data Company, says councils need to look at innovative ways to fill space.
“If some larger vacant premises are sub-divided, does this make them more appealing to a raft of other retailers who would not be suitable for a large format? “It is key for councils to identify any gaps in the market that could make these units relevant and attractive to today’s retailers. “A number of town centres that are perceived as ‘struggling’ already have new housing and employers in the pipeline, with a Business Improvement District in place to help deliver the next phase of evolution.”
‘Swansea of the Seventies was largely retail. The city of the 2020s will be leisure, food, beverage, and retail’
high street retailers that can make a fist of it in the city?
While the evidence suggests that might be the case, local policy, savvy lobbying and a major injection of government cash could be turning the city’s fortunes on its head.
Luporini, who is chairman of Swansea’s Business Improvement District as well as running The Kardomah restaurant, says businesses and local authorities are tackling some of Swansea’s ills head on.
“We were hit in Swansea by out-oftown complexes, there is no doubt about that, along with internet sales and this whole era of convenience everything.
“But because we have a strong partnership with the local authority, there is now a policy of no more out-of-town developments.”
Part of the reason why retailers like B&M are keeping a close eye on Swansea is because it is in the early stages of a major overhaul.
The £1.3bn City Deal, a mixture of private and public sector, aims to breathe fresh life into the city through 11 major investments, ranging from the installation of the latest digital infrastructure to construction of an entertainment arena hosting 220 events a year. Organisers hope it will drive the need for hotels, further food and beverage, and more shopping.
Chief among the hopes is that it will encourage more people to live in the city by creating thousands of jobs, which could help to plough money into businesses.
Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea City Council, says the local authority is trying to repurpose the high street.
“Currently we are losing up to £180m a year because people from Swansea are shopping elsewhere, either in the out of town developments, or in Cardiff.
“Retailers like M&S are changing their business models now, they are moving to click & collect. So we are trying to facilitate that by clearing space in the city centre.”
Work has already started to transform Swansea’s The Kingsway road into a city centre park. Stewart says these signs of resurrection are stoking private sector confidence in the city. He is hopeful that an empty Toys R Us store might now be filled by Swedish furniture retailer Ikea.
Despite the challenges, Stewart is bullish. “What you can’t say is that there will be no need for retail, that there will be no room for food and beverage. Of course there will be.
“We are trying to change the mix of what we have. The Swansea city centre of the Seventies was largely retail. The city centre of the 2020s will be leisure, food, beverage, and retail. Probably in that order.”