In the midst of the most difficult times in most people’s living memory, Hicks Baker retail director Fiona Brownfoot has managed to sign a new tenant. A franchisee for Mr Simms, a retro sweetshop, has agreed terms for 68 Broad Street, Reading – next to the Halifax. We asked her thoughts on how the high street may look after the COVID-19 crisis.

It’s always dangerous to generalise about the retail and leisure industry as there are many different sectors; different types of operators; different operations; different scenarios for different locations etc. But I’m going to live dangerously and generalise!

IF the financial impact ‘pause button’ can be pressed sufficiently hard, then many retailers who had a  fundamentally viable business prior to the pandemic, will not only pick up where they left off, but they will be smarter in terms of how technology can assist and enhance their business. 

And they will have had time to engage in ‘housekeeping’ and strategic planning for their future. All of which should bode well for their survival.

However, for the many who were limping along with an irrelevant offer or a badly run business, this will finish them off. The Government has acted swiftly with a raft of measures to assist retailers – exemption from paying rates for a year, the job retention scheme, grants, interest free loans, etc.

However, the area they can’t legislate on is the payment of rent. This is entirely a matter for landlord and tenant and many landlords are unable to assist and share the pain with tenants due to their own debt situation.

March quarter day was Wednesday 25th, when rent was due and which was no doubt the point at which many tenants will have defaulted. Soon the number of ‘fallers’ will start to become evident.

Many commentators have stated that the increase in online spending since the pandemic took effect, which may well have come from those who previously preferred to shop in actual shops rather than virtual ones, will remain.

However my view is that the long period of self-isolation will result in a very healthy swing back to shopping in real shops, particularly those which offer an excellent level of customer engagement and service.

The retail world was changing substantially prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 and that change will continue once life resumes to some sort of normality.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking but, together with changes that the current climate will bring about, I believe this will result – in a few years’ time – in a much more interesting line up in the high streets of our cities, towns and villages.

We are, thankfully, still social beings and I believe that the current extraordinary situation will bring that to fore more than ever before.

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