Large queues formed outside stores and shopping centres across the North West as many retailers opened their doors to the public for the first time in months with social distancing measures in place. But whether the excitement on the high street endures for the rest of the year remains to be seen, commentators said.
Queues at Primark snaked around the block while at Manchester Fort there were hour-long queues to get inside Nike and TK Maxx.
At Liverpool One, 85% of retail stores reopened but the John Lewis will open in around 10 days, according to head of operations Ian Finlayson.
Alison Clegg, asset management director at Liverpool One landlord Grosvenor Europe, said: “The official reopening of Liverpool One was a success as we saw a consistent flow of visitors during the day, enjoying the outdoor spaces and following social distancing guidelines.
“Around 85% of the stores opened, including cafes and selected restaurants for takeaway service, and retailers such as Zara, JD Sports and Sports Direct had the largest ‘socially distanced’ queues of the day.”
Shoppers posted videos of long queues outside Zara and Sports Direct and Liverpool City Council asked shoppers to consider going home and returning at another time when the city centre was less busy.
At the Trafford Centre, 40% of shops reopened yesterday and Primark, the anchor tenant at the £75m Barton Square redevelopment, opened its doors for the first time.
Intu, the Trafford Centre’s landlord, reported lower footfall than the same day in 2019 but said it expects customer numbers to increase as the week progresses.
Gavin Prior, operations director at Intu, said: “It is clear from the queues that people have been excited about returning to the shops. There has been a wonderful vibe since even before we opened, with socially distanced queues forming for brands like Primark and Zara from early in the morning.
“Footfall across all Intu centres is naturally lower than the same day last year, but we expect the number of visitors to steadily increase towards the weekend as more of us look to venture out to the shops and more brands reopen.”
Manchester Arndale also reported lower footfall than on the same day last year as 55% of its stores reopened.
David Allinson, centre director at Manchester Arndale said by 5pm customer numbers had increased by 223% compared to last Monday and he expected that figure to grow throughout the week.
Tom Royston, associate director at DTZ Investors which owns a large swathe of retail space on King Street in Manchester, said in future more landlords would strike turnover link tenancy agreements where the amount of rent paid is based on a company’s turnover.
He added that while there had been a move towards online shopping in recent months, yesterday highlighted people still want to go to places to shop.
— Daniel Toth-Nagy (@dwmcload) June 15, 2020
“King Street is quite well positioned as it is an outdoor space and there is outdoor provision for occupiers to use. It has been hard to navigate the challenges and it is still unclear how [occupiers] are going to do that,” Royston said.
“They are going to see how this week goes to determine future strategy but we saw people queuing yesterday, which signals people want to return to the high street.”
Cllr Pat Karney, associate executive member at Manchester City Council, said the reopening of many stores signalled a “huge sense of relief for businesses owners”.
He added: “However, this remains a very challenging time for the city’s businesses and we have worked to try and support as many as possible, but we understand that the difficult times are not yet over as social distancing remains vital.”
Chris Lloyd, investment director at developer and investor Glenbrook, predicted that the high street will shrink in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, presenting opportunities for developers.
Glenbrook is delivering STOK, a 64,000 sq ft office-led redevelopment of the former Marks & Spencer unit in Stockport.
Lloyd said: “There’s a school of thought that this [the pandemic] is just fast-tracking what was happening to the retail market anyway and those traders which come out of this deserve an opportunity to find a balance between online trading an existing real estate.
“We will see. It is inevitable that retail is going to shrink and what is quite exciting is what you can do with the real estate left behind. There are parts of the high street that can be repurposed for all sorts of uses.
“People are always quite nervous about change but we’re quite excited, really.”