Independent retailers help stem rise in empty stores – BRC

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Empty UK stores remained at a record high in the third quarter but vacancies did not rise for the first time in more than three years as independent retailers revived, an industry survey showed.
The vacancy rate was 14.5%, the same as the second quarter and 1.3 points higher than a year earlier, the British Retail Consortium said.

Shopping centre vacancies stayed at 19.4% from three months earlier and high street vacancies were also unchanged at 14.5%. Vacancies at retail parks dipped to 11.3% from 11.5% as brands opened stores out of town and to support online operations.

Britain’s high streets and other shopping venues were already struggling before the pandemic under the weight of rising costs, weak consumer confidence and the growth of online shopping. The Covid-19 crisis increased pressure on retailers, forcing many big names such as Philip Green’s Arcadia empire and Debenhams into administration.

The BRC said 10% of high street shops and 13% of units in shopping centres have remained empty for more than a year because of the high cost of opening and running stores in many parts of the country. Independent stores are partly responsible for the levelling off of vacancies with local high streets reviving as people work from home.

“A return to growth for the independents sector is truly positive but somewhat offset by the challenges being faced by larger multiple retail and leisure brands, many of whom will still be exposed to a large perhaps unmanageable rates bill,” Lucy Stainton, director of the Local Data Company, said.

“We are still seeing an incredible volume of businesses opening and closing, beneath these top-line stats, and this makes devising and implementing investment strategies whether you’re a landlord or a retailer, set against constantly shifting sands and supply side challenges, very challenging.”

The vacancy rate in greater London was unchanged at 11.1% from the previous quarter and dropped in all other areas apart from Scotland, where the rate rose to 16.4% from 16.1%. The north east of England remained the worst affected area, with vacancies easing to 19.7% from 20.6%.

“When stores are forced to close, it not only takes away much needed jobs, but also diminishes the vibrancy of those communities,” Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s chief executive, said. She said Rishi Sunak’s budget did not do enough to support retailers and that more shops were likely to shut.

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