Whilst the pandemic has been tough for many local businesses and high-street firms. I was pleased to hear last week that according to recent analysis Horsham was in the top 25 “most resilient” town centres and was the top ranked in the south east.
It was especially good to hear in the week running up to “Small Business Saturday”.
The High Street is facing many problems. Having taken an active role in the Parliamentary investigation into the collapse of BHS, on behalf of its pensioners, I am particularly saddened to see the current fate of Arcadia, and it is not alone. Many businesses on or off the High Street, despite significant Government assistance, have faced a dreadful year like no other.
However the picture is far from universal and despite demand in our area being hard hit, including by the Covid impact on aviation, local businesses have benefitted to some extent by fewer people commuting daily away from our area.
Some have seen an increase in demand where local people have preferred to visit a local shop. Whatever the basis of this: closer to home, more available time, a sense that smaller may also be “safer”, I hear from food shops in particular that customers are sticking with them. They are impressed with the quality and equally impressed that that quality can still be bought at a reasonable price.
New shops have opened or are set to open in East Street, West Street, Swan Walk and Piries Place. New businesses already opened include Gwyn’s Bakery in the Bishopric and the nearby Johansson’s Café.
Before the renewed lockdown in November footfall was returning strongly and I do hope this will be replicated pre Christmas, albeit with shops and shoppers continuing to be careful to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
Post the pandemic nothing in business is going to be exactly the same. For a start the pandemic has accelerated an ongoing shift towards more on-line shopping. However, visiting shops often combined with a coffee, something to eat and friends is not just “something you have to do” in our culture – but an activity in its own right. The face and composition of our High Streets is continuing to evolve as it has in Horsham and elsewhere for centuries but it is clear that there remains a strong appetite for a mix of retail, eateries and leisure activities on the local high street and I am sure this is something we all wish to see through to better times.