Mary Portas has delivered her report on the future of high street retailing to the Prime Minister today and wants to pilot some of her ideas in ten retail locations around the country.
Does the Queen of Shops have practical wisdom for Westbury on Trym, or is her business model unsustainable in the Age of Austerity?
Inevitably, such a report will be summarised by the media into bite-sized chunks. In fact, 10 Downing Street's Press Office has produced its own summary. Her Retail Majesty's recommendations include:
- strengthening the management of high streets through new ‘town teams’
- ensuring a "town-centre-first" approach in planning and encouraging large retailers to show their support for high streets
- looking at disincentives for landlords leaving properties vacant and empowering local authorities to step-in when landlords are negligent
The final item on this list may resonate with local businesses in Westbury on Trym, many of whom have seen their rental prices rise dramatically in recent years. The closures of gift and card shop Me to You in Charlton Court and the memorably-named K Stabb shoe shop have been blamed partly on these price rises.
Meanwhile, Westbury's love affair with coffee shops seems to be showing no sign of abating, with a new Costa Coffee opened on Westbury Hill and yet another cafe proposed for the now empty unit in Carlton Court.
Receiving less publicity in the Portas report are a number of potentially radical options for high street revitalisation. These include
- Virtual local high streets on line. Could Westbury shop owners benefit from a local shared site where they could sell online, without the cost and hassle of setting up separate individual web sites?
- Local markets to supplement retails shops. We already have monthly farmers' market. Is there an appetite for developing this resource?
- WorkShops. Portas writes: "Instead of working from home people should have the chance to come onto the high street and work together in ‘hubs’, re-appropriating vacant units to create a shared space where entrepreneurs can work and be creative with ‘hotdesking’ for start-ups. I want to see working co-ops in town centres using other vacant units as ‘showrooms’ for their products and services." Interestingly, Bristol is a national centre for this type of co-working. Could the idea be more widely applied to local independent business owners in the BS9 area?
Comments welcome, as always.
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