We know retail has to mix it up, but it does not have to reinvent the wheel. There are regional cities creating successful retail hubs that we can learn from. In various suburbs, clusters of independent retailers are performing well.

Richard Saunders

Richard Saunders

Oddly, Covid restrictions have in part been a catalyst. Post-lockdown, designated zones for outdoor hospitality created by street closures are thriving as retail hubs, thanks to their underlying credentials as authentic, community-driven spaces. They are not purpose-built, concrete blocks but independently-run ESG or B-Corp models that sell unique products. After two years of digital life thanks to the pandemic, there is now an online backlash, with consumers seeking experiences not available with the click of a button.

A brief look at Bristol shows the success of this approach – take Cotham Hill just off Whiteladies Road, and in Clifton Village the streets of Boyce’s Avenue and Princess Victoria Street. These are now largely pedestrianised roads that host a range of independent brands and, every time I visit, I am struck by the vibrant culture created as a result. Clearly, people attract people; people spend!

At the other end of the spectrum is Broadmead, which has a very different energy. M&S and Debenhams have departed and consequently the street is grappling with the challenge that many high streets have faced in recent years: how to reinvent.

Areas like Clifton make it clear that Broadmead must focus on authenticity, localism and independence, all underpinned by affordability for the consumer, while injecting spaces that foster culture and community. It could take lessons from The Galleries – another of Bristol’s purpose-built shopping areas where, after recently marking its 30th anniversary, plans are afoot for its transformation to a mixed-use development.

Retail’s direction of travel is clear: we must create hives of activity. With recent ONS statistics showing online retail sales are now decreasing post-pandemic, is this our moment?

Richard Saunders is retail director at Hartnell Taylor Cook