I went for a walk through town this week and I realised something, there are far fewer empty spaces than I thought there were and most of those empty units have the same thing in common.
You see, for any talk of empty units and a dying high street, look at those vacant stores, a sizable number of them were previously occupied by big chains.
In the last year, Top Shop/Top Man, Dorothy Perkins, Burtons and Wallis have, through no fault of their Manx staff, collapsed and in doing so, they have left big holes in our capital’s high street.
One of the other empty units was the home of Game before it made its move to the Strand and there are of course many chain stores which continue to loom over the high street, M&S, Boots, H Samuel, Pandora, Dealz and Specsavers to name a few.
But what is Douglas without shops like The Art Stores, Pat-a-Cake, Newsons, Salmon’s Shoe Repairs, Capone’s, Rainbow’s End, the list goes on. Equally if we look at Ramsey, sure it has the Co-Op and a pharmacy, but it is made up of great local shops, the same can be said for Peel, Castletown and Port Erin, these shops and their owners are the heartbeat and lifeblood of our communities.
I understand that there is some expectation that once the border restrictions are lifted further, some of our empty units throughout Strand Street will be filled with some more chain stores. It makes sense, they have all had a bad year and it is rare that a big chain store on the island fails to make a good profit.
Equally some of the units are simply too big for a local store to take on, any company coming in to fill The Cube previously occupied by Top Shop is going to need some serious capital, the same can be said for the Dorothy Perkins and Burton store. But across town there are some smaller units available which would make a great home for pop up shops or would give a small business a chance to grow.
Thanks to the various schemes set up by the gov, there is support out there for new and growing businesses and while I’m rarely one to trumpet the gov’s ideas and work, if this pays off, then it would only be to the benefit of the island’s economy and help plug the holes exposed by the recent publication of the gov’s annual accounts.
With more people back working in town and tourists soon to be returning to our shores, wouldn’t we all rather see our island’s high streets busy and full of small businesses who keep their money on island and support their community over big corporations who pay lip service to local charities and then post the profits off island.
Don’t get me wrong, those big names are important too, they employ hundreds of workers and are vital to our economy and food supplies, but without those independent businesses and entrepreneurs, our high streets would just look like any town in the British Isles and we’re better than that.