Is it the end for independent high street non-essential shops? | Can Seaton town center survive?


Is the time of high street shops ending? 

Can independently owned high streets shop survive another financial battle? 

Those are just two of the questions that I hear almost daily being debated, both online and in person. Everyone has their own views and opinions on the current situation but i think one thing people can agree on is that things are difficult in the UK right now, for everyone, in different ways. 

According to this article

''A record 16% of shops on Britain's high streets stand empty and one in every 20 vacant units across the country have been shuttered up for more than three years

This is just one of the signs that high street shops are struggling to survive, but why? 

If independent high street shops survived the pandemic how come they are struggling now, in 2022, when lockdowns have been lifted and the public is free to go shopping, some ask. Well the reason is that the general public, those that shops depend on are either struggling financially already or are unsure of what the coming months and years are going to hold and so are reducing their non-essential spending. 

Shops that sell food, clothing and other essentials are unlikely to be feeling the extreme effects that non-essential shops are right now (though they may be getting a taste of it). Over the past few weeks leading now into a month, every single non-essential shop owner I've spoken to or read about is struggling and is very concerned about the future. 

There are less people out browsing, I'm assuming to try and avoid being tempted to spend, and less people out actively buying in the high streets. Now from the articles I'm reading this is UK wide and is not limited to one specific area. The location here cannot really be blamed, it is about the current financial situation in the UK. 

''High Street faces crisis as millions of brits struggle - new warning issued'' 
The article above by The Express goes into even more detail about the challenges faced by indie businesses. Not only are they faced with turnover falling due to customers spending less but also a rise in costs for energy, staffing and products. Most businesses, especially high street shops are seeing a strong increase in costs at the same time as a decrease in turnover. 

Whether high street shops will survive will depend on a number of factors for example:
- The support of the local community
- The shops ability to adapt and diversify
- The financial situation of the business, whether it has access to funds to keep it going whilst going through yet another rough patch. 
There are some who believe that high streets do not matter, that they were going to fade away soon anyway with the internet taking over and people turning to the web to purchase rather than to high street shops. There others who don't want this to happen and who see the importance of high streets and independently owned businesses. 

Personally I think that high streets are important and are worth saving, this probably has a lot to do with the fact that i own a high street business but that aside the community element to high streets, the fact that they bring people together and can when structured well create a social space that promotes physical and mental health i feel is something worth saving. Do to this though i think our idea of high streets might need to change. Shop owners, like myself, need to be willing and able to adapt. We need to be thinking about what we can do, what we can offer that people will want and need, that they cannot get or experience online. Whether each individual shop owner does this alone or whether shop owners work together will i think make a difference. If shops are willing to get together and make a plan on what they can all do to make a town center / high street interesting, captivating and worthwhile visiting then i think they will have more success than those unwilling to work together. 

The government response to the on-going situation with high streets is an interesting one, if you have the time to read this document, then it is an interesting read. I was particularly interested in the point made in section 5 of the document: 
5. It remains the case that resilient, thriving high streets and town centres of the future will be planned in the round in collaboration with local authorities, the business community (including Business Improvement Districts), property owners and the local community. Strategies for high streets and town centres should combine a mix of uses including housing, offices (including shared workspaces), retail, hospitality, leisure, arts and culture, healthcare, physical activity, green space, seating, and child’s play. These plans should be based on experiences and not just transactions, and be tailored to the needs and character of the individual area. Principles that local planners of high streets and town centres should explore include: creating experiences that cannot be found online; generating social value and not just economic growth; and supporting residents to move around because they want to, rather than because they have to.

There are parts in the document i agree with and some i don't, the parts here I've highlighted above in section 5 seem to a-line with some of what I've said too. About the importance of adapting and of creating 'an experience' that can't be found on the internet. 

If you are interested in reading more about 'The future of high streets and town centers' this is an interesting read. This is a document prepared for the LGA that discusses in depth issues and potential short term and long term action plans.