Article originally published in Commercial Real Estate, November 18, 2020.
High street shopping is back in fashion as consumers return to their local strips following the easing of pandemic restrictions in most states, preferring to stay close to home and shunning big malls.
This comes as state and local authorities announce plans to rejuvenate these high streets, and developers make them the focus of new housing projects.
Paul Zahra, chief executive of the Australian Retailers Association, said high streets had been the big winners at a time when CBD retail was suffering from having no tourists and people working from home.
“With many Australians staying close to home, shoppers have rediscovered some of the great stores they have in their own backyard,” he said. “Suburban strips have seen strong foot traffic, which is a must for driving sales – particularly for discretionary retailers.
“It might be too early to call it a revival, but there is definitely anecdotal evidence of a resurgence which we hope will continue. We encourage shoppers to get out and support their local retailers in any way they can.”
Daniel Hill, at the Committee for Sydney, says in a new report, Reclaiming Sydney’s High Streets, these shopping strips are vital to the survival, and health, of areas.
“Our local high streets are the beating heart of the community,” he said. “When Sydney was originally built, virtually every neighbourhood had a local shopping street, and this helped to define so many of Sydney’s neighbourhoods.
“We celebrate these streets for everything they can offer – convenience, amenity, and the simple pleasures of walking around and people watching. But at times they have been abused, neglected, and degraded by poor traffic management and planning decisions.
“That is why we are calling for the revival, reclaiming, and revitalising of Sydney’s high streets and turning them back into a cherished part of daily life.”
Developers of new housing are now even keener to integrate their projects into high streets. So when architect Domenic Alvaro from Woods Bagot was hired to design Mason & Main – 346 apartments in two new towers, one of 24 levels and the other of 15 – in Merrylands, near Parramatta, the opportunity to breathe fresh life into the high street they sat on was a major attraction.
As a result, it’s being designed with an eat street – with a providore and cafes – on a laneway leading into the high street, and extra retail through large arches opening onto the street, to complement the stores that are already there. High streets need plenty of locals as much as locals need high streets, is the thinking.
“We’re responding to the community character and local context and recognising the importance of liveability,” said Mr Alvaro. “The whole concept is community integration with medium-density housing.
“We’ll be helping with the revitalisation of the high street and creating more character with the connective laneways offering more amenity. The high street there is, I think, quite eclectic, but it needs more residential and densification. The more people in and around the high street, the better. They’ll prove the catalyst for rejuvenation.”
Coronation’s director of urban transformations Aras Labutis has noticed “a big shift back to the high street”.
“I think people want the authenticity they offer, they like going to shops where the shopkeeper knows their name, and it’s a lot more personal than getting lost in a big mall.
“And we’ve changed the way we shop now. It’s no longer about going on a big shop once a week; it’s now going out every couple of days for really fresh, local produce.”
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