What does closure of Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Burtons shops mean for Leeds city centre? - Andrew Cooper, LeedsBID chief executive
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In 2009 I recall the outcry as Woolworth closed its 807 stores across the UK, with job losses and large noticeable empty units a regular sight on high streets across the country.
Over 10 years on, are we witnessing further structural change on our high streets as established brands are purchased by online retailers casting aside the capital assets of bricks and mortar and scooping up their digital footprints?
Debenhams, acquired by Boohoo for £55m, has a staggering 300 million visits a year on its website, making it one of the top 10 retail websites in the UK and producing sales of over £400m in the year to August 2020, according to the Financial Times.
Other brands including Dorothy Perkins, Burtons - a company synonymous with Leeds - and Wallis that are not known for their strength in the digital world, are physically disappearing from our high street to reappear on the internet.
Retail experts would argue that retails brands that have emerged during the internet age have fared better than those created before which have struggled to adapt or repurpose their offer to meet the changing demands of the consumer.
Property specialists have stated that there has been an over-supply of retail in our towns and cities.
In this current climate of lockdowns, online retail has accelerated beyond expectation but will this last and when we return to the outside world, how do we want our high street to look and feel?
One thing is for sure, we cannot rely on retail alone to aid the recovery effort. The old model of retail needs to be replaced with new thinking to support the transformation of our high streets and district centres.
We now realise those services and amenities pushed out are essential to the diversity of experience and needs that customers want to see. Health centre, libraries and leisure
facilities are important components to the quality of life driven by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our high streets and city centres need to reinvent and reposition, and this requires a holistic view from all sectors of the community. No one organisation can solve this challenge alone, it requires us all to pull together to ensure our cities and high streets remain resilient and strong.
LeedsBID, a not for profit, non-political organisation, is working with businesses and civic leaders to shape the city of Leeds for the future.
Recognising the need for action now, LeedsBID has already acted in supporting companies like Topshop in redeploying its staff to sectors where there is an immediate job demand.
Encouragingly, Leeds is seeing new investment in retail, hospitality, leisure and commercial property; the pandemic has not put investors off who are instead looking at the long game and seeing the potential of the city.
It is easy to get brought down by the negative news stories of closures and job losses in some areas but on the other hand, opportunities are emerging, and new companies and brands are investing in Leeds. The city is well-placed to spring back, and we all have part to play in telling this positive story.
Andrew Cooper is chief executive of LeedsBID (Leeds Business Improvement District) and was recently appointed as an expert member of the Government's High Street Task Force.