Hundreds of shops disappear from South West in first half of 2021

Nearly 500 stores disappeared from the South West in the first six months of 2021, new research shows.

The region lost 498 shops after 784 closed and only 286 opened, according to a report carried out for PwC by the Local Data Company.

Nationally, more than 8,700 chain stores disappeared from the UK’s retail locations. The fall in the South West (of -2.5%) is in line with the average across Britain and similar to the same period in 2020.

Last year dozens of big high street chains went into administration, including Arcadia Group and Debenhams, and the decline of retail in the UK has continued into this year.

Standalone stores in the West Country fared best over the first six months of the year, falling by just 1.7% – only slightly above the national average of 1.6%.

The high street (down 3.4%) fared the worst, although at -3.2%, South West shopping centres proved more resilient than all other regions.

Fashion retailers; charity shops; car and motorbike stores; betting shops; and banks and financial services were hit hardest.

Cities are now faring worse than commuter towns and villages for shop closures.

The flight from cities following the pandemic continues to contribute to the decline in shops, according to the research. Footfall in cities is yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels as more people work from home and in the longer-term move towards a hybrid-working model.

Nationally, retail parks saw the smallest number of closures (634), compared to high streets (3,643) and shopping centres (1,464).

Retail parks fared better, the report said, because many are anchored by grocery, DIY and home furnishings retailers – categories that have outperformed others since the start of the pandemic.

Shopping centres meanwhile are more likely to host fashion retailers and chain restaurants, which are among the hardest hit. A drop off in footfall has affected chain retailers located on high streets, too, particularly in large city centres.

Jason Clarke, partner at PwC in the West and Wales, said Government support had “proved a lifeline” for many retailers.

“The fate of many operators has also been helped by resilience in consumer spending, including investment in the home through lockdown and using enforced lockdowns savings for ‘revenge spending’ when possible,” he said.

“This has seen the South West perform in line with the British average in terms of percentage net loss of stores, but significantly outperforming the British average and all other regions in terms of the smaller loss of stores in shopping centres here.”

Mr Clarke said retailers and other operators were not yet “out of the woods” and the next six months would be “make or break” for many chains, particularly with the reinstatement of full business rates and the winding down of furlough.

He added: “There is also continued uncertainty for hospitality businesses who will be apprehensive of further restrictions on operating and the possible requirement for vaccine passports later in the year.

“But there are also some green shoots, not least with greater working from home. Consumers still want physical shops and a number of chains are still opening stores or coming onto the high street, independents or flagships together with some new restaurant openings across the region.”

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