Southport used to be fearful of the shopping centres like the Trafford Centre and Liverpool ONE.
How could retail in our seaside town cope with these huge out-of-town centres?
In 2018 the Trafford Centre welcomed 31million shoppers through its doors, many of them from Southport.
Owners Intu Properties, which owns some of Britain’s biggest shopping centres, has now collapsed into administration, although it has said that it will keep all its malls open.
The news has come as a huge shock to many, though perhaps not as much with industry insiders. The group has struggled with £4.5 billion debts for the past year, further hampered by significantly lower rent payments from retail tenants since the coronavirus outbreak.
And Southport could be perfectly placed to benefit.
Shopping habits are changing – evolutionary before lockdown but fast gathering pace now.
Online retail was already growing significantly with high street retail shrinking before lockdown, with a number of brands such as Debenhams, Beales and Laura Ashley either cutting stores or disappearing altogether during the past few weeks.
Among the fastest to adapt have been smaller stores which have moved fast to meet the rapidly changing customer demand.
Here in Southport, there are many great examples. Blackhurst Butchers, in Southport Market, operated a delivery service throughout lockdown, and is about to unveil its new app and website. Peets Plaice fishmongers in Churchtown launched a delivery service for shoppers accompanied by a new website. From The Block Fitness began teaching fitness classes online.
Fylde Fish Bar even predicted the end of the Friday night queue at the chippy as they teamed up with Southport firm MD Travel to launch new click and collect and home delivery services.
It was fantastic to see shops in Southport reopen last week, and we’re looking forward to more firms opening up on July 4.
Stand Up For Southport and Southport BID have been urging people to Shop Local as businesses reopen, and there are a number of reasons why people will be doing just that.
In the post-Covid world we now inhabit, who really wants to drive for an hour to visit a huge, bustling, cramped shopping centre where social distancing may be difficult and you are not quite sure why might have been touching what?
Southport, particularly boulevards such as Lord Street, benefit enormously from the space they enjoy.
Even before lockdown, recognition was growing that shoppers are becoming more demanding about what they want. Anyone can visit Amazon and buy the goods they want online. People shopping now want ‘the experience’.
That includes a pleasant shopping environment, preferably with beautiful architecture, clean air, a good choice of local, independent shops, great restaurants and cafes to eat in.
If a town can align that with other great amenities such as an expanding Southport Pleasureland, a revamped Southport Pier, a transformed Atkinson centre, great hotels, world class events such as Southport Flower Show and Southport Air Show and beautiful parks such as Botanic Gardens and King’s Gardens, then shoppers and day trippers quickly become overnight stayers and holiday makers.
We benefit too from having a Southport Business Improvement District, which will champion the cause of local businesses, in addition to ambitious redevelopment plans already in the pipeline for places including Southport Pleasureland and Southport Market.
Residents in Southport will recognise the opportunity we have here, but also the areas where we need to improve to compete.
Lord Street is the undoubted jewel in our crown and it needs work to bring it up to the high level it needs to reach.
The historic features on Lord Street and the surrounding roads need renovating, and this is an area the Southport Townscape Heritage Project, with its £2.5million funding, will now target.
We also need to work to bring historic empty buildings, such as Debenhams, Beales, the Grand Casino, Victoria Baths, and other empty town centre units back into use.
On Monday, the Southport Town Deal Wider Consultation will begin, with the aim of securing £25million investment into our town.
The Coronavirus pandemic may lead to a growth of ‘Shopping Local’ and staying local, with shoppers less likely to want to travel too far from where they live. Have you identified a need in your local high street? Now is probably the time to seize that chance.
Gradually, as people do emerge, they are more likely to staycation rather than vacation and Southport is well-placed to benefit from that. Town Deal funding will hopefully make us even better placed to attract visitors.
Monday, when the wider Town Deal consultation opens, is a time for Southport to fight hard for our future.
We need to determine just what shoppers and visitors want to enjoy from their ‘experience’ of visiting a place such as Southport – and we need to build our town accordingly.
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