Small Businesses Are Taking Back the High Street

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Small Businesses Are Taking Back the High Street

In the first half of 2021, more independent operators opened than closed, which is the first clear snapshot of how the high street has changed following the coronavirus pandemic. 

Independent, small businesses are now claiming back the high street after years of being forced out by landlords, who preferred to rent to chain brands.

More small businesses opened than closed on the high street over the first half of this year, which is the first time this has happened since 2017.

The pandemic accelerated the collapse of several midmarket chain brands, like Topshop and Debenhams, while home working has driven an increase in the demand for local convenience stores, barbers, and fast-food takeaways, as people are choosing to spend locally.

This is a big contrast to the number of chain retail units that fell vacant between January and June, with over 5,000 becoming empty, according to statistics from the Local Data Company, which surveyed more than 550,000 units for their study.

Independent businesses have now taken over these retail units, aided by landlords providing rent-free periods and contributions to fitting-out costs, in order to encourage take-up of empty high street and shopping centre units.

Lucy Stainton, commercial director at the Local Data Company, said: “For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, there may be some cause for optimism when it comes to the performance of our high streets.”

Stainton believes that the bounce-back of independent businesses is thanks to the Government Covid-19 emergency financial support fund, lockdowns creating a demand for takeaway food and convenience food, and consumers becoming more interested in the provenance of products, sustainability, and supporting local businesses.  

Stainton said: “Independent operators are also benefitting from the volume of available units, many of which come with attractive deals from a new market of shopping centre landlords who are now looking to the independent sector to fill the significant number of stores being vacated by chains.”

However, Craig Beaumont of the Federation of Small Businesses, has warned not to get too carried away with these findings, as a lot of independent retailers will face many difficulties coming out of the pandemic.

“Wholesale and retail is still the second-highest user of furlough and we know that the smaller the business, the more likely it is to be using [the scheme] and coming off it slower,” Beaumont told The Times.

“In addition, small businesses are about to be hit by three tax rises: self-employed national insurance contributions if they set up as self-employed sole traders; employer national insurance contributions if they employ four or more people in their shop; and an extra 1.25 per cent on dividends if they set up as a limited company.”

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