Negotiations must be balanced, and exploitation of the system must not happen on either side as it is important that both parties share the pain in order to stay operational and face the future with optimism. The return to trading has got to be on a softly-softly basis, with rent relief reflecting that social distancing and queueing remains a requirement that turnover is likely to be significantly reduced for sometime before the “new norm” is established.
Thankfully it has not all been bad news for the retail sector as some stores have continued to trade well over the post months albeit with increased costs. The supermarket and convenience business have traded well and some retailers, more than others, have had a lot of success with online sales.
Information from our colleagues across Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain, would suggest that footfall figures on high streets and shopping centres has varied between 35% and 50% of pre-Covid levels.
If one is to look at the store formally occupied by Debenhams on St Patrick’s Street in Cork (still locally referred to as Roches Stores!), this store comprises in excess of 155,000sq ft, arguably the best profile in Munster not to mention in Cork City. Most other anchor stores are already represented in Cork city centre. Sports Direct, being the new entrant into the market, has recently purchased the Easons store, and it remains to be seen what brand from that group is to be represented there. The reality is that the former Roches Stores will probably require redevelopment and re-purposing to suit the new market that we find ourselves in, with mixed uses that are ancillary to the primary use being retail fronting onto Patrick Street in order to make it work commercially.
These could include restaurants with outdoor covered seating and/or other community-based activities. It would be great to see these units occupied with uses currently not permitted on the street. You only have to look at other European cities to see that this model works and also keeps the street alive for longer periods than the usual retail hours. The Local Authority has to work harder to ensure the vitality of St Patrick’s Street, as the remainder of the city centre feeds from it.
There has been a lot of publicity as to the plight of St Patrick’s Street and the amount of units closing.
However, this needs to be put into perspective. Those retailers that have closed were in difficulty and suffering well in advance of the Covid-19 pandemic and some of the closures are strategic.
The redevelopment of the long-vacant A-Wear building is now completed with JD Sports opening a new superstore as an extension from their store within The Savoy out onto the street. This will be a super addition to the street.
Easons, immediately adjacent to JD, have sold their building which they have now vacated. As a result, it is expected that Easons will relocate elsewhere on S Patrick’s Street or Opera Lane.
No 83/85 St Patrick’s Street was vacated by Vila/Selected from the Best Seller Group pre-Covid and we have interest in that store from two international retailers, neither of whom have previously had representation on Patrick Street.
Monsoon’s exit from Patrick Street has been expected for some time and that block to include the former Victoria Hotel overhead now has planning permission for a new development.
There is interest in St Patrick’s Street at present from new retailers. Yes, vacancy has increased during the pandemic but that was inevitable given the effects of the virus, coupled with the changing face of retail activity. The fundamental message is that the market will adapt, people will want to shop and if landlords and retailers can collaborate and cooperate with each other our high streets will continue to thrive.
It has been good to see the reopening of retail units across the city and suburbs with good trade reported from retailers on St Patrick’s Street and Opera Lane as well as Mahon Point Shopping Centre and Mahon Retail Park.
It is important for business communities to come together and a prime example of this has been the success
of the Victorian Quarter and the emergence of MacCurtain St over the last number of years. It is fantastic to see the activity on that street with the former Windsor Inn now being developed as a new boutique hotel and so many restaurants and pubs trading well and promoting the area as a joint force and this has led to new brands on the street to include The Glass Curtain and Thompsons Bar & Restaurant.
This has principally been driven by Cork businesses and other streets and areas should take a lead from this. A good example of this is the enthusiasm and positivity displayed by Eddie Mullins of Fitzgeralds Menswear on St Patrick’s Street: more should be encouraged.
Main streets of towns, in my opinion, need to revert in some way to what was the norm in the 1970s and 1980s where the majority of outlets were indigenous local traders such as locally run fashion boutiques, fruit and veg; butchers; dry cleaners etc which were dependent on the support of the local community. This, however, will require an adjustment in some of the rents being received by landlords.
This also applies to secondary and tertiary retail locations in our cities where, for example in Cork, North Main Street had a lot of local traders historically – this needs to be reintroduced with Local Authority/Government-incentive led support for local business ventures.
Peter O’Meara is a director with Savills, Cork