Retailers vanishing from Britain’s high streets

Offices, apartments on deck after 7,800 stores close in six months

John Lewis & Partners on Oxford Street (Google Maps, iStock)
John Lewis & Partners on Oxford Street (Google Maps, iStock)

Retailers are disappearing from high streets in the United Kingdom and it might be office and residential uses that replace them.

More than 7,800 retail stores closed in the first half of 2020, not far off the 9,169 total that closed all of last year and more than closed in each of the three years prior. Office and residential developers and investors are looking to fill some of those spaces, according to the Financial Times.

“There will be a lot less commuting: More people will work in their local communities; less in places like London,” said Mark Dixon, CEO of furnished office provider IWG plc. The company is betting that demand will rise for smaller offices on suburban high streets rather than in urban areas, the traditional hub of demand.

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High-end department store John Lewis & Partners is converting 45 percent of its flagship store on London’s Oxford Street into office space. It also plans to build furnished rental units at 20 of its retail properties across the country and move up to 70 percent of its business online.

Outsourcing company Serco has considered a move from central offices to smaller spaces spread out in the suburbs, where employees wouldn’t have to commute via public transit, said CEO Rupert Soames.

“There are places shutting down [on the high street] — well, with a bit of work you could make that into an office for 15 people,” he said, adding that the company had no specific plans to utilize high street locations. [Financial Times] — Dennis Lynch