A key element of the debate around the High Street is about supporting independent shops. But the ‘them v us’ mentality that appears to underpin this argument isn’t helpful - independent shops are governed by exactly the same principles that chain High Street retailers are subject to.
Much of the underlying rhetoric around the current debates about the High Street appears to be influenced by the belief that independent retailers are good for the vibrancy of any retail offer, while chain retailers are not. The introduction of local currencies for example, which we’ve critiqued in the past, is based squarely on these arguments.
While this may or may not be true, independent retailers are governed by the same broad trends as all retailers – there are more independent shops where daytime population, and so the size of the market, is larger. As such those cities that have fewer jobs and residents living in their city centres will see their city centre retail struggle, whether the shops are chains or independents.
Daytime population and independent retail businesses in central areas, 2011
Independent businesses are identified as those businesses that have one branch only. Data is for English and Welsh cities only. Source: ONS 2013, Business Demography Database
The tables below show the top five and bottom five cities for independent retailers in their city centres (defined as those that only have one shop in their business). Cities such as York and Oxford, where daytime population in the city centre is high, have the highest number of independent retailers in their central economies. It is worth noting, however, that despite having the highest number of independent shops in its city centre relative to total population, independent shops only make up 15 per cent of all shops in York’s city centre. Meanwhile cities such as Portsmouth and Birmingham, which have low daytime populations relative to the overall number of people who live in those cities, have the fewest number of independent shops.
Note: For data confidentiality issues the exact number for Telford can not be reported. Independent businesses are identified as those businesses that have one branch only. Source: ONS 2013, Business Demography Database
Again this illustrates the folly in the current policy debate surrounding the High Street. If policy makers want to support High Street retail, be that independent or otherwise, they need to start thinking about jobs and city centres, not just about shops (independent or otherwise) and High Streets.
Independent retailers rely on footfall just as any other High Street retail business does. Failing to recognise this means failing to recognise one of the key threats that independent shops face in many cities – the decline of footfall as a result of a shift in jobs away from city centres.
Previous blog in the series: Beyond the High Street: Engines of growth
Next blog in the series: Beyond the High Street: The geography of jobs in Brighton and Wakefield
See the full report: Beyond the High Street
Director of Policy and Researchp.email@example.com
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