21 July 2020

Why COVID might be the saviour of the local high street

By Jacey Bunker

There’s a post office within five minutes’ walk of my house. Alongside it is a Londis and an Asian supermarket packed with exotic spices, fruit and veg. I’ve lived in my house for 18 months and I only discovered these shops because of the lockdown. Now they’re my go to when it comes to food shopping.

I’m not alone in this. A recent poll found that a third of people aim to continue to shop locally¹ as lockdown eases, finally spelling some good news for the battered British high street. After years of campaigns and measures urging people to shop local, it appears that a global pandemic was all we needed to change our habits.

Shopping local is a welcome by-product of both attitudinal and logistical adaptations brought about by Coronavirus. Initial food shortages and lack of online delivery slots drove people to seek out new places to buy food, hence the discovery of the literal fruits of my local grocery store. And as we lived through the peak of the pandemic, the idea of queuing outside a larger format supermarket and trying to stay two metres away from others put many people off their usual weekly routine.

Add to that the fact that most of us retreated to our homes, which became our places of work too. No more grabbing a coffee at the station or a sandwich from the fast-food chain around the corner from the office; instead, we started to wander out to our immediate neighbourhood and discovered coffee machines in shops we never knew existed, picked up fresh fruit and veg from local greengrocers and some of us may even have ventured into an off-licence (it had been a long week).

But, perhaps the biggest driver for change has been the new sense of community spirit we all now feel; some 83% of people say the local high street is important to the wider local community¹. Indeed, the ShopLocal hashtag has been used a staggering 36.3 million times since lockdown began.

Whatever the reasons, this is the first glimmer of hope for the high street in many years. And, whilst we undoubtedly will see continued change as larger retail chains continue to close unprofitable stores in favour of ecommerce, this should also open the door for local entrepreneurs to take advantage of vacant units – and to create some really unique and compelling spaces for people to work, shop and relax locally. I, for one, am excited about the possibilities.

¹Daily Mirror poll, 8th June 2020

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