The loss of the department stores – following the likes of John Lewis also closing branches in recent times – is part of a broader longer-term shift towards online shopping which has been rapidly accelerated by the repeated lockdowns of the past year.
According to analysis published earlier this month by the Centre for Retail Research, almost 190,000 retail jobs have vanished between the start of the first lockdown on March 23, 2020 and March 31 this year – with more than 15,000 store closures in the same time period. With business rate payments set to return from July after being paused for the pandemic, the pain is unlikely to be over for many businesses. The loss of big name stores from town and city centre also hurts their independent neighbours as there is less reason for shoppers to visit high streets.
The Government points to the billions it is putting into its Levelling Up and Future High Streets funds, while work is taking place with local leaders through the High Street Taskforce. As boarded up department stores, shops and restaurants become ever more prevalent, the opportunity to truly reimagine the purpose of town centres – in a way that still include retail but makes them sustainable community spaces – must be seized.