Lockdown turned many people into enforced savers, as much as £180 billion is thought to have been squirrelled away. In Portsmouth today, there were plenty of signs of a pent-up demand – a determination to spend big as restrictions eased. There were queues outside JD Sports and H&M, and even longer queues outside Primark and TK Maxx (neither of which sell online). But some of the shops on Commercial Road aren’t coming back.
Burtons, Top Man and Top Shop have gone, so too has Debenhams. People returned to their city centre to find it much changed. After a normal recession you’d expect new retailers to spring up like wild flowers and fill the holes in the high street. That is unlikely to happen this time around. Shopping habits have changed dramatically during lockdown and look to have changed permanently, to the great advantage of online retailers like Amazon and to the enormous disadvantage of many traditional retailers, many of whom now find themselves with more space than they can manage. Today was a giant stride back to something resembling normality but the upheaval isn’t over. In the months ahead, as furlough support and business rates relief is withdrawn, expect more shops to close and more companies to fail. But remember too that high streets were struggling long before Coronavirus arrived. Spending has been moving online for years. Lockdown turned a gentle decline into a short, sharp shock. The shop is no longer the asset it was. In Portsmouth, in communities everywhere, there will be a need for reinvention.