Fitness entrepreneur Dominique Day, businesswoman and journalist along our stretch of the Thames, reads the runes in our embattled retail sector. In this edition, she takes a look at the future of George Street.
We hear a lot about the growing concern among Richmond’s commercial estate agents over the ‘death of the High Street’.
George Street has endured its ups and downs in recent times, losing big name stores like Habitat during the years of recession and financial crisis, but it always managed to remain vibrant by attracting relative newcomers to the market like Anthropology and the most recent new arrival Antipodia. But with gaps opening up and restaurants and retail outlets closing, locals fear the town centre will degenerate into an enclave of discount stores and too many charity shops.
The current crisis in retail feels more immediate, however, with the town’s commercial agents planning to raise the issue with the borough councilors as soon as the local election dust has settled.
“They’ve have all bolted,” confides one agent. “People are meeting up to discuss this at the earliest opportunity.
“There is no strategy for town management in the future. We have to energise the town centre, bolster what’s already there, but no-one has a concrete plan.
There was no risk assessment done. The rise of internet shopping and Westfield Shopping Centre wasn’t a surprise,” he concludes.
But Susan Shaw, Richmond Council’s Business and Retail Champion, is adamant that support for the high street is at hand.
“We are doing our best to help the retail sector by launching initiatives like ‘Save The High Street’. The plan is already in place in Barnes and we are rolling it out in Richmond. This will help the independent retailers look at ways to attract new customers with dynamic window displays, enhancing their website presence and extending loyalty offers and the use of click & collect.
AWAY FROM THE HIGH STREET
There is some apprehension about the fate of the surrounding area.
“Some landlords are sitting on vacant properties which deteriorate into eye-sores – waiting to transform them for more lucrative residential use,” says our man on the board.
“In time, all the little shops on Richmond Hill Rise will turn residential. It used to be a great antique street but the owners have retired and few long-term tenants have replaced them.”
But others, like Sneller’s Sharon Bastion, remain optimistic. “Where there are people there are shops! I managed to lease out the space left by the furniture store Maison on Richmond Hill quite quickly and the vacant beautician’s spot on Paradise Road is being replaced by another therapist. So, it’s not all doom and gloom.”
Food Retailers are understandably wary of the impact which will ensue with the opening of the new Lidl store just on the other side of the bridge on Richmond Road.
“General stores in town will be affected by Lidl. And town planners should reconsider putting a new school on a single lane road into the town centre.”
“Yes, the Deer Park school might affect traffic to Richmond but it will bring its own demands for local services and they will thrive,” argues a defender.
In the September issue; I will bring you the inside track on the plans for Richmond’s House of Fraser as well as the latest news from the streets in ‘About Town’.