If you take a macroeconomic view, as I like to do, it seems High Street Retailers exist primarily to fill the pockets of landlords.
As demonstrated by the recent credit crunch, landlordism is mostly immune to the economic lows. Spare cash went straight into rental investments. Shops went empty, but landlords still received rent payments while leases were being sold. Estate Agents relied on their lettings and management businesses to survive (pay rent and the rent of their staff).
Why does this matter? Landlords take from the economy and put nothing back. No jobs are created. Money is not recycled back into the local economy.
Savvy operators, like Westfield, invest and reap the rewards. Their policy of never allowing a unit to remain empty keeps consumers flocking in. They take care of details like parking, child-friendly facilities and relaxing spaces to put up your feet. You can shop till you drop, without a care in the world.
The High Street landlord cares not: zero investment in surroundings, poor parking arrangements (from out-of-control local councils), and empty shops are far as a sore eye can see.
There are, however, shining examples of hope:
- New West End Company - landlords and businesses on London's Oxford, Regent and Bond Streets coming together to ensure cleaning, marketing, lobbying and crime watch are coordinated and operating at world-beating standards.
- Kensington High Street Regeneration - local council and businesses redesigned the streetscape, encouraging shoppers to come back to their local community, rather than flee to the new Westfield Shopping Centre a short drive a way. Probably one of the most modern looking high streets and always busy with footfall.
- Box Park Shoreditch - A mini mall, made up of shipping containers, has turned Shoreditch High Street into a local hub that appeals to people beyond the typical artisan that resides in the trendy East London thoroughfare. A good mix of shopping, eating and relaxing coupled with great transport facilities. It helps that there is a bewildering amount of empty land to re-purpose.
- Deal (Kent) and its Town Team - Judged by The Daily Telegraph to be 2013's High Street of the Year (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/reinvent-the-high-street/10547216/Reinventing-the-high-street-Deal-wins-high-street-award.html), Deal got together and kept their High Street local, independent and attractive.
Compare these with Clapham Junction which is bi-polar with the decaying Lavender Hill filled with betting shops and ghostly estate agent offices and Northcote Road where you can't walk for tripping over a yuppy buggy. Not planned, but Nappy Valley stole Lavender Hill's thunder, with the traders and landlords on Lavender Hill putting up nary a whimper. There are whispers about regeneration, but that is indication enough of the lack of appetite for a fight. All talk, nothing in the trousers.
And it will take a fight to restore confidence to the high street.
One example of money wasted in the wrong direction: "A new (UK Government) advisory board to look at how digital technology can help create sustainable high streets." The great thing about this advisory board, is they report into the 'Future High Streets Forum'.
Clear evidence that there's a lot of money to spend on the High Street, but none of it will go to the High Street, especially from landlords. We certainly are in it together. All of us on the High Street exist to pay the landlord. Blame Harold for taking an arrow to the eye, allowing the Normans to establish feudalism.
Brits have the property bug so bad, everyone aspires to be a landlord. If everyone wants the easy money, who is going to work and produce? That's right, the young and penniless. And where is their first job, typically? The good ole High Street.