The pandemic has had a profound effect on all of our lives, and lockdown has given us time to re-evaluate – and some of our habits are changing, shopping being one of them. Home delivery and “click and collect” from our supermarkets and other providers may have been options we had not considered using until Covid-19 struck, and we had no choice but stay at home.
But now, these ‘new’ ways of shopping are commonplace and so too is shopping online. White van man is now everywhere, deliveries to our doors have made our lives so much easier, and – let’s be honest, receiving something as a delivery has an element of excitement, particularly if it’s not broken or it fits!
But the downside to all of this is the effect our new shopping habits have had and will have on our high streets. It’s been a very tough time for many shops and businesses and the knock-on effect is likely to take some time to shake down, before the new normal has bedded in.
Many shops have already closed their doors for good, national chains have been decimated, long established independent retail family businesses have disappeared from the high street, and in every city, town and village there are empty premises.
On a positive note
On a positive note, the availability of empty buildings is also attracting new businesses starting up, often able to take advantage of low rents, or rent free start up periods, where a landlord is keen to get a tenant who can at least pay the standing charges i.e. rates, services, insurance, and to have the shop occupied, even at a low rent, is better than having it empty.
Rye, despite its affluence, is not immune to the current climate and, if you look around the town, there are a number of empty shops and some of the businesses which have closed during the pandemic may not return for a variety of reasons – but well located, prominent shops are still very popular.
A willing and able tenant
Finding a tenant for the Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop (above) could take time, a large building with an old fashioned interior, but right next door, the former, now vacant, Rye Shoes shop has already attracted a willing and able proposed tenant whose interest sparked quite a lot of comments when featured recently in Rye News under the headline, “Cornish Pasties on their way”.
I spoke recently to the freeholder of the building who confirmed to me that the proposed tenant, The Cornish Bakery, was secured quickly and are keen to establish themselves in Rye as they have done locally in Hastings Old Town.
The two parties met, details were discussed and agreed in principle between them, subject to listed building and planning approval, and with terms agreed it should not be too long before a prominent, yet vacant, high street shop is once more trading, a new business in town attracting new customers to Rye.
But there could be months of delay
However, I am reliably informed that, after discussions with the planners at Rother District Council (RDC), the tenant’s application is likely to take up to seven to nine months to be determined and, even then, there is no guarantee that the decision reached will be an approval.
So what now? Will the tenants and landlords go the distance and take the risk? Can they wait up to nine months for an answer, or will the tenants look and possibly find a shop elsewhere – only time will tell. In the meantime, as business rates are not payable on empty listed buildings which Rye Shoes (86 High Street) is, much needed income for RDC is being lost through non-payment of business rates and new jobs cannot be created if new businesses can’t open.
Recently, the government announced that some commercial buildings in our towns and cities could now be considered for change of use to residential properties as they are unlikely to be occupied as they are, but it begs the question, if our existing draconian planning system were overhauled and planning decisions were made more quickly, would new businesses be able to open sooner, would our high streets become vibrant again, and would we change our shopping habits once more, and buy locally instead of online?
Times they are a-changing but, as the saying goes, ‘time waits for no man’ and we can only support our local businesses if they are able to open.
Image Credits: Nick Forman , Trip advisor .