What will happen to the high street’s horizon?
PUBLISHED: 10:25 08 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:41 08 January 2019
The struggles of the retail sector in 2018 have left their mark on high streets across the country, including in Norwich.
Empty units tell of the battles fought and lost by bricks-and-mortar retailers, as administrations or store closure programmes saw branches close their doors.
But what has been the fate of those which shut in Norwich in 2018?
Some of the largest and most traditional retail buildings in Norwich have been vacated, with a few finding new and unexpected owners.
The former Gap store in London Street was transformed into a Norfolk outpost of upmarket eatery The Ivy Brasserie, with the doors to the Art Deco-themed restaurant opening in August.
Guy Gowing is managing partner of Arnold Keys’ commercial property team. He said: “This is typical of what I think we’ll start seeing on our high streets. The crux of what I think will happen is that the high street will get shorter and be more diverse.
“We’ll have more of the big properties being taken over by the leisure sector, and big name brands will scale back for more niche retailers.”
Elsewhere in London Street there have been similar resurgences.
Ascot Knight Silver opened in a former clothes shop, Urban Myth, in the autumn, and next door The Chicken Shop, which specialises in fried chicken and bubble tea, began trading in November.
Meanwhile the former Pandora’s Kitchen at 67 London Street has reopened as a second cafe for Wensum Street-based Artel, also incorporating a graphic design studio.
Some have not been so lucky – the unit next to The Ivy Brasserie, formerly owned by womenswear chain East, has been vacant since the retailer stopped trading in May.
“There are a few things which can be done with empty units – office space for one. There is already a former retail space turned to offices in Rose Lane, and this is a trend I think we will see continuing,” Mr Gowing said.
Around the corner on Castle Meadow, the former site of electronics retailer Maplin still has yet to find a buyer.
The unit which was once home to Argos has never been replaced, and the likes of Blue Inc and Peacocks potentially facing closure.
“Castle Mall has always been at a disadvantage because it didn’t have the anchor store that the likes of Chapelfield did – though maybe that’s seeming like an advantage now,” Mr Gowing said.
“There are a lot of what I’d call short-term lets in there, and a lot of empty units. However, we’re seeing the likes of Bourgee coming to that upper floor which I think could work really well. They’ve also got the opportunity to do something great in Castle Meadow with alfresco dining and eateries.”
He added: “In Castle Mall they used to have an NHS walk in centre but they got rid of it – I believe that was a mistake. We’re seeing it more and more that people want to get more out of high streets than just shopping, because they can do that online.”
2018 was also the end of the line for a 220-year-old Norwich institution, Loose’s Cookshop, the owners of which planned to launch a scaled-back online shop.
But the unit, set back from Red Lion Street, is yet to be re-let.
In Westwick Street, the warehouse-style building formerly occupied by Toys R Us is also still standing empty. The last of the chain’s stores closed in April.
“There’s talk of creating student property on the Toys R Us site, but I don’t believe it will get that far. I think it will be snapped up as retail warehouse space is in demand at the moment,” Mr Gowing said.
He explained: “In the years of online shopping and shopping for the best quality on price between stores, you park up and walk between shops.
“But for the likes of DFS or other furniture and homeware stores, they want somewhere that customers can pull up and load up, because they won’t be going to other stores.”