Back to one of our ongoing assessments, an annual retail survey of Crouch End town centre (see 2017 here, and 2016 here). Topical too, as few weeks go by without a newspaper article proclaiming the death of the High Street. So, another year on, how are things hanging down The Broadway?
On the face of things, all seems quiet, the vacancy rate is still low (3.3%) with 11 vacant units, as opposed to 12 last year – far less than the national average of 12%. Even long standing empty shops continue to find occupants, such as 48c The Broadway (now Paesan Italian café/bar). There’s little news to report on the share of independents, estate agents or hairdressers.
Nevertheless changing patterns are still evident in the composition of the district centre, and the share of the different sectors tell us how trends are developing – particularly the burgeoning food and beverage sector and the shrinking comparison shopping offer. Indeed, most of the national woes about the High Street are about the closure of comparison outlets – and relatively few of these shops now feature along the frontages of Crouch End. The likes of Woolworths are long gone, and the proportion of comparison retail in Crouch End is now a mere 19% of retail floorspace, and a significant slice of that are charity shops (take a look at the map insert above: the blue is comparison & convenience retail, yellow food & beverage, orange other services).
But the big news of 2018 is that we appear, at last, to have reached peak coffee (and peak pale ale), with no growth in the number of units or % share of food and beverage operators. Of course this may be temporary, and the jury’s out on whether it’s good or bad for the future well-being of the town centre.
Looking at other town centres this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and falling numbers of diners (and subsequent closures) has actually hit us later than other places. The offer very much remains a USP for Crouch End and still occupies 1 in 4 units. We’re monitoring (for instance, the future of the Earl Haig under new owners).
Growth, such as it is, carries on in the service sector which now occupies 40% of floorspace (this includes ‘leisure’) and rises to 60% if your definition includes food & beverage. This is double the national average. It is no surprise that the new retail unit in the old Hornsey Journal building is rumoured to be a solicitors. Clearly services are crucial, though surely they too depend upon a successful mix of other uses.
There were 23 changes during the year, fewer than previous years. Openings included Sharkey’s Cuts, Pure Dynamic Osteopathy (re-locating from HTH to their own space), Haven House charity shop, the Vape Shop, Tan-Hub, and the Mathnasium. Fewer new bars, restaurants and cafés appeared but included Florians 2 (!), Paesan, Little Mercies, Telepizza and the (retro-?) Montmartre Brasserie. The Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre changed hands, marking time ahead of the big restoration – and the Kerb market on the Square seemed to come and go.
Other goodbyes to Ruby Rose, Riley’s ice cream parlour, the long standing Jade Palace, Cassius & Coco, the restaurant half of Cannon’s fish & chips, Real Domestic Appliances, and MEB Motors. There were a number of changes grouped on Crouch Hill as Blue Legume, My Space, Pearl & Turqoise, Little Green Shopper and My Creche all closed their doors.
NB: The entire retail floorspace of Crouch End is 40,000 m2. This is classified as a relatively well-sized ‘District Centre’ (typically 10,000 to 50,000 m2).
A bit choppy perhaps. Difficult trading conditions, falling footfall, increasing rates and greedy landlords. But mostly the threat from online shopping. Nevertheless, current thinking places great store in the proposition that High Streets can prosper through providing a richer, more flexible offer, together with an improved environment for visitors. Reasons to be cheerful then, as Crouch End seems decently placed: –
Firstly, there’s a balance of elements here which afford some future resilience:
The convenience/top-up shopping sector looks set fair (hopefully including some of the valued independents), though the comparison shopping may only prosper as select ’boutique’ shops – and then only if we see footfall maintained and improved (the presence of numerous charity shops reveals the stress the sector is under). The service sector, leisure, gyms, hair and beauty, to solicitors and estate agents should continue to grow share. Lastly, even if further growth in the food and beverage sector appears limited the offer remains a USP for Crouch End. Balance is all of course, and good reasons remain to spend time in the town centre, whether it’s the gym, the salon, the bakery or the café.
Secondly, if there’s little an organisation like the Forum can do to intervene in the marketplace, we can at least aim to play a full part in the developments that offer us an improved town centre environment:
We particularly welcome the ‘Liveable Crouch End‘ initiative which although tasked with tackling traffic and active travel, is a (long overdue) opportunity to make street and pavement improvements; and also the Hornsey Town Hall development which offers the prospect of a new town square, a continued arts venue, and even a grade II* listed visitor attraction in its own right.
The combination of these schemes, which will emerge gradually over the next three years, offers a tangible set of improvements which will hopefully attract greater numbers to the delights of CE. The Forum hope to build on these developments with policies to better protect and enhance the local heritage assets (including the parades and the shopfronts), and improvements to the local environment.
It almost adds up to a masterplan.