A series of community-centric initiatives are revitalising shopping districts. Brick and mortar stores have faced a “retail apocalypse” in recent years, as the rise in remote and hybrid working compounded the challenge from online shopping. In the UK alone, more than 17,000 stores shuttered in 2022 according to the Centre for Retail Research, representing a 50% rise over 2021. Now, innovative approaches are helping to reverse declines in footfall.

One tactic sees developers bet big on independent traders to create a community feel. In Poole, UK, an imaginative project is transforming Kingland Crescent, a once rundown shopping street that is now home to ten thriving independent local retailers, including a record store, coffee roaster, fishmonger and a jewelry store.

The turnaround is the brainchild of LGIM Real Assets (a division of financial services company Legal & General) which offered the units to budding local traders rent and rates-free for a fixed two-year period back in 2021. The community-centric offer means the street is now thriving despite the cost-of-living crisis. According to a feature in The Guardian, Kingland has boosted footfall and generated an additional £2.2m (USD 2.8m) in revenue for the neighboring Dolphin Centre shopping mall which hosts a number of branded retailers. L&G, which is offering mentoring and legal advice to tenants, hopes the approach can form a blueprint to be adapted for other struggling towns and cities.

The focus on community and culture is driving a wave of retail innovation from big name retailers. H&M’s concept store in Williamsburg NYC is offering a yearlong program of bi-weekly themed activations centered on art, fashion and music in collaboration with a roster of local partners. Footwear retailer Athlete’s Foot launched a neighborhood concept store in Midtown Atlanta this summer, offering a hyperlocal collection alongside events and live performances for the local community. British-Nigerian designer Yinka Ilori’s London popup in late 2022 hosted a series of events and activations to engage locals, including a gaming tournament and a basketball signing session. Ilori explained to Frame magazine that his aim was to “bring retail back and start a conversation about the future of our stores, how we curate these spaces and what experiences we can create to forge deeper, more meaningful connections.”

Solely focusing on retail may not be the whole solution. British start-up Patch is helping to revitalise high streets with a network of neighborhood shared spaces for work, leisure and community that drive additional footfall. This summer sees the launch of two new spaces (in High Wycombe and Twickenham) that build on the success of the first Patch venue in Chelmsford, Essex. The venues are inspired by a ‘work near home’ concept which imagines how work-life balance could be improved without the dreaded commute. Founder Freddie Fforde tells VML Intelligence, “Our mission formally is 'to create opportunity for people, work and community on every UK high street'. This means both spaces to work, with your team or in a shared environment out of the house, and spaces to discover and meet new ideas and activities - from podcasting to crochet, to cinema club meetups and games night."

Our mission formally is 'to create opportunity for people, work and community on every UK high street'.

Freddie Fforde

Founder, Patch

As lifestyles continue to evolve, retail must adapt, delivering on a rising need for connection and community. As noted in our recent trends report The Age of Re-enchantment, 85% in the UK, USA and China say that “people seem to have less time for each other these days,” while 56% agree that “there’s no sense of community anymore.” Four in 10 say they feel lonelier now than they used to. Engineering ways to bring people together will be key to revitalising our shopping districts.

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