More than 40 Canterbury stores and restaurants close in last 12 months of pandemic
More than 40 downtown businesses have closed in the past 12 months as the retail and hospitality sectors have been ravaged by the pandemic.
But with 25 new outlets opened and the streets teeming with shoppers, business leaders are optimistic the tide is now turning.
Crowds have returned to Canterbury since hairdressers, pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops reopened on April 12 after months of closure.
But those who return to the city cannot fail to notice the scars of the pandemic it bears today.
Canterbury already featured a number of large storefronts vacant before the coronavirus outbreak, such as those where Nasons, Debenhams, Curry’s and Poundworld once stood.
But the long lockdowns have unfortunately proved fatal for many other businesses.
The city now has more disused premises than since records began in 2012, with 13.4% now unoccupied – nearly 3% more than last year.
Six units are now empty at Whitefriars.
Among them is the large glass unit evacuated by Topman and Topshop during the pandemic.
Monsoon and Accessorize have also left the mall in the past 12 months, and their former premises are vacant along with the former EE, Jessops, Ernest Jones and Beaverbrooks stores.
But Whitefriars spokeswoman Julie Holness said there was positive news in the pipeline.
She revealed the unit across from Fenwick which once housed the Beaverbrooks jeweler, as did the former Jessops premises in the Marlowe Arcade – although she was unable to confirm the names of their potential tenants.
“We are also very interested in all of our empty units,” she added.
Among the other biggest victims of the past year were Dorothy Perkins and Burton, owned by the Arcadia Group retail empire, which entered administration in November.
But the empty store on the corner of Rose Lane has just been marketed for rent.
Nick Furlong, director of commercial property consulting firm BC Retail, says he believes large premises can be split into multiple businesses.
“Considering that we have seen one of the most difficult years the retail market has had to endure for quite some time, I am pleasantly surprised by the level of interest we have had so far,” a- he declared.
But he added that modern retail requirements “don’t necessarily suit” the layout of the building, which comprises 11,000 square feet, over four floors.
“I think whoever owns it maybe should consider dividing it up so that the entire property is leased,” he said.
Meanwhile, other retailers in the Whitefriars area have used the lockdown as a time to renovate their stores.
Boots and Fenwick introduced new brands, while stores such as Copperfield menswear have undergone renovations and restaurants have adapted to offer outdoor seating.
Ms Holness added: “The German Doner Kebab took the old game unit from the clock tower and is currently in the process of fitting it out.
“We also welcomed back the Canterbury Makers to the center, who took over the old Kuoni unit in the Marlowe Arcade.
“I can also confirm that the silversmiths will soon be undertaking a major refit and will be moving to the old Ernest Jones unit during this time.
Business leaders optimistic about recovery
The promise is in the air elsewhere in the city as new businesses open and retailers anxiously await the further easing of lockdown restrictions.
The Canterbury Business Improvement District (BID) reports that while 42 businesses closed last year, some 25 have also opened, giving new hope for the battered retail sector. Canterbury.
Managing Director Lisa Carlson said: “Like the rest of the country, Canterbury’s Main Street has lost some businesses during the pandemic.
“Losing businesses is always difficult, but even before Covid there was more turnover and change, and continued investment in Canterbury.
“With proposals at several of the larger sites, we expect the vacancy rate to drop significantly over the next few months.”
Ms Carlson remains optimistic about the future of downtown, where footfall fell only 17% the week stores reopened compared to the same period in 2019 – despite restrictions still in place and many attractions to open.
“We were extremely happy that non-essential businesses started to reopen again,” she said. “It seemed like a big step.
“We feel positive and energized for the year ahead and confident that we can encourage visitors and residents to shop and dine in Canterbury, in a safe and welcoming environment.
“This month we saw Chuck and Blade (Kent burger restaurant), Vintage Superstore, Victoria Grace Bridal and (restaurant) No.35 open their doors to customers.
“We are also very happy to see the downtown hotel, Hampton by Hilton, open at the end of May.”
With domestic hospitality, hotels, cinemas and museums reopening on May 17, Carlson hopes trade will only increase.
“We very much hope that customers will continue to show their support for businesses in Canterbury city center,” she said. “We also hope to provide new experiences for visitors in the coming months.
“We have beautiful hotels and bed and breakfasts, our beloved festivals such as Pride Canterbury and the Medieval Show. Our music festivals return this year with Kent Cricket season, the Sandwich Golf Open and even a big screen to watch Wimbledon in the city center.
Of Canterbury’s 130 pubs, cafes and restaurants, 91 opened for alfresco dining or take-out when lockdown restrictions were relaxed earlier this month, while 19 more are expected to join when dining restrictions will be lifted.
The other 20 have yet to announce reopening dates.
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