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31 March 2021
The risks facing local shopping precincts and ways to avert them
It’s certainly depressing to walk past deserted main street shopping areas with a smattering of struggling retailers and loads of “for rent” signs.
A lot of work goes into trying to revitalise these areas because helping them flourish is good for everyone who visits them, from residents and retailers to shoppers and even extending to disadvantaged communities nearby.
These areas usually follow a cycle that begins with a run-down area attracting only community-centric retailers that trade off cheap rentals. If these businesses are supported by locals, they develop character and become more successful, helping the area become a cherished one.
This leads to local investment which boosts the area but keeps the rentals low and helps retailers to thrive. But, as the area gains popularity and a higher profile, so larger investors are attracted, and this causes rentals to rise. The increased value of the area tends to attract national chains, and this can often suffocate community businesses and reduce community support.
Once this happens then vacancies appear again, and the area tends to decline fairly quickly as it loses its character and local flavour. Other factors that impact local shopping precincts include global and local economic conditions, as well as changes in the profile of surrounding suburbs.
In order to combat this kind of decline, there are various steps that can be taken.
Shopping strips have multiple landlords, which doesn’t allow the oversight that a mall or shopping centre owner would have. The responsibility, therefore, lies with local authorities to ensure that premises can be adapted so that the mix remains appropriate and approvals for new retailers can happen quickly.
Areas thrive for many reasons but one of the most important is the broader surrounding spaces. Local authorities should ensure that the space is appealing, that historical areas are maintained and attractive and that new construction is encouraged and facilitated.
People are attracted to areas with good amenities. Local authorities should invest in seating, lighting, parking and other amenities to make the area more conducive to retail traffic. Well-maintained park spaces, toilets and free Wi-Fi are all amenities that make a difference to the appeal of a shopping area.
Businesses that can offer something beyond the local market will have a better chance of survival. Retailers should therefore be encouraged to offer online services and delivery options to widen their appeal.
Local government benefits from thriving shopping precincts and it should therefore put in the work to ensure that these are protected. Thriving main streets result in rising house prices and therefore increased rates. They also lend character and appeal to an area.
The cycle of demise can happen very fast if local authorities are not agile in reacting to changes in the environment. Reviving a shopping precinct is an expensive and slow process. It’s therefore in everyone’s best interest to invest in maintaining thriving shopping precincts and ensure that they are resilient and cherished spaces in the community.