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Pandemic impact ‘yet to be felt’ on high streets

Closed Dorothy Perkins outlet in Birmingham

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown Britain’s high streets into crisis, yet the full force of its impact has yet to be felt, according to accountants PwC. More than 17,500 chain stores and other venues closed in Great Britain last year, according to new data. That’s an average rate of 48 closures a day. But the figures, which include hospitality and leisure venues, but not independent retailers, suggest the trend began before the pandemic. The research was conducted by the Local Data Company which tracks vacancy rates in nearly 3,500 high streets, shopping centres and retail parks. It recorded 17,532 closures in 2020. It also reported 7,665 store openings. This resulted in a net loss of 9,877 outlets, the worst annualdecline researchers have seen in more than a decade.

Bar chart showing openings and closures
However, the full impact of the pandemic has yet to be felt, according to Lisa Hooker, head of consumer markets at PWC, so the picture is likely to get worse before it gets better. These numbers, for instance, only include store closures which are known to be permanent. Many outlets which have closed “temporarily” may never re-open. “Unfortunately, there is still quite a lot to play out. You’ve seen the closures of the likes of Debenhams and Topshop and that’s happening in 2021 so they’re not even in our numbers,” Ms Hooker says. “Much of the impact is a reflection of things that happened before the pandemic. This was not just the move online but areas such as legislative changes, for example for betting shops, consolidation due to overexpansion, or chainwide closures for restaurants and mobile phone stores that found themselves in trouble pre-Covid-19.” As a result closures were rising and openings were falling even before the pandemic hit.