Over 11,000 outlets permanently disappeared from main streets, malls and retail parks in Britain last year, with independent retailers and villages faring better than chain stores and city centers.
A net total of 9,877 chain stores and 1,442 independent retail, food and entertainment establishments closed in England, Wales and Scotland in 2020, according to the Local Data Company (LDC). The analysis focused on 680,000 points of sale in 3,000 points of sale.
Government support, including lower corporate tariffs, a moratorium on evictions for those unable to pay homeowners, supportive subsidies and paid time off for workers, have helped slow the pace of closures for the self-employed by 11% compared to 2019.
This help ensured that the pace of closures was not as fast as expected by LDC, which expected at least 14,900 outlets to be vacated. However, the true impact of the pandemic has yet to emerge. Many outlets included in the research were temporarily closed during lockdowns and were not counted as closed, but may never reopen after restrictions were eased next month.
According to LDC, up to 18,000 additional stores, restaurants and entertainment centers could be evacuated as the collapse of large retail groups such as Debenhams, Topshop and Dorothy Perkins materializes.
Lucy Stainton, Head of Retail at LDC, said: “Our latest report shows a marked increase in structural decline in the physical retail and entertainment markets, but we would also say that we are not yet close to see the full impact of the Covid -19 pandemic.
“What remains to be seen are the consequences of the end of government support, which is effectively ‘thawing’ a significant portion of the market that has been frozen in time since the start of the pandemic. With that in mind, we expect to see the state of play in terms of vacancy rate and net change to worsen over the course of 2021 and 2022 before stabilizing. “
In 2020, fashion and clothing stores led the decline, followed by bookies, real estate agents and mobile phone stores. Barbers were the fastest growing street businesses, despite months of lockdowns that kept them from playing, followed by beauty salons, fast food outlets and nail bars. Supermarkets and grocers were also among those doing well as they were given “essential” status during lockdowns and were allowed to trade.
The loss of commuters and tourists hit city centers hard, with vacant homes rising 2.5 percentage points to 16.1%, more than any other type of place. In contrast, villages, which are surrounded by residential areas with a higher balance of independent retailers, were more resilient with vacancy rates increasing by just 0.4 percentage points to 11.1%.
More local convenience stores have opened than closed for the first time in four years, as the shift to working from home and the desire to avoid public transportation has benefited more convenient neighborhood outlets.
The data also reveals the challenges ahead of reinventing city centers to become less dependent on retail. Among the House of Fraser, Debenhams or Beales department stores that closed between January 2017 and December 2019, less than a quarter found new occupants without having to be reorganized into smaller units.
About 30% of the old department stores have been demolished or split into smaller units. LDC said a similar fate would likely await another 124 Debenhams stores which closed at the end of last year, but are not included in the 2020 data, as many are expected to briefly reopen to liquidate inventory this year before close permanently.