While empty shops have historically been a problem, now is the first time there have been so many glaring spaces in the High Street and Commercial Arcade.
Jonathan Creasey, chairman of the Guernsey Retail Group, said there was a lot that could be done to make Town more prosperous.
‘For Town to be successful it needs a lot more residential, it needs a lot better access, and in my view access primarily equals car parking. It needs a better bus service, and then once you get into Town you need a good selection of retail, and I think that retail offer could and should now be made up of more independent shops to give character and an individual atmosphere.
‘We probably need more al fresco opportunities, we need to use the assets that we have, like the Sunken Gardens should be a stunning aspect for the whole of Town to use.
‘I do see a world in which we create a retail start-up incubator within one of these empty units and entice new start-up retailers to take some real space, pay a rent, but it would be much more than just turning up for a Seafront Sunday – a meaningful time to test the waters.
‘It’s something the retail group needs to really work on with the States and see if we can find the property that lends itself to this concept. The landlord wants to make sure they get a return on their property, and if we could find a way of structuring a lease which can then be sub-divided into licences to trade, there’s a way of doing it.’
Development frameworks are being drawn up for the Lower Pollet, Mansell Street and South Esplanade, although Mr Creasey questioned whether they should be looked at all together in a master plan.
The seafront redevelopment is on the radar of senior politicians, but retailers are not sounding convinced about removing parking from the piers, unless they can be assured of better parking elsewhere.
The retail group is currently recruiting for the full-time and paid job of head of retail development.
This position is seen as critical in turning around Town’s fortunes post-Covid.
'Local shops are the way forward'
TOWN RETAILERS have said there are now genuine opportunities for local independent traders to set up in St Peter Port.
The number of closed shops has recently been highlighted, but Jonathan Creasey, chairman of the Guernsey Retail Group, said it was also an opportunity.
Mr Creasey hopes the revival will be around independent retailers, which have generally proved more resilient during the pandemic than UK chains.
‘I think there’s a real opportunity now for more locally-owned businesses to come forward. I think they’ve got a better choice of available properties than they’ve had previously.
‘The number of empty properties isn’t probably that different, but I think the prominence of some of the properties is the issue – there’s Beghins, and now Burtons and Dorothy Perkins, and equally having empty properties in the Arcade, these properties haven’t been available for decades. It should be a tenant’s market to at least have a better opportunity for negotiation.’
The former H. Samuel in Commercial Arcade has been shut for months. The jewellery shop opposite has also closed, as has the cafe next door.
Passers-by had lots of suggestions on how to inject some buzz.
Dave Chapman wanted to see more creative areas.
‘There’s so much local talent and they could get reduced rents on some of the empty properties and then sell arts and crafts.
‘And this whole area could be an extension of the Thursday markets, but more permanent.
‘I don’t think the area should rely on UK chains because people don’t shop like that any more, I think the emphasis needs to be on local.’
Natalie Phibbs agreed that local was the way forward.
‘Looking around here with all these empty shops, it’s pretty much a graveyard, and it used to be busy when I first came here 19 years ago.
‘I would like to see pop-ups for artists and I would happily buy things.’
Marc Harvey from Town Butchers in Fountain Street also had plenty of ideas.
‘The Old Quarter maybe needs to be made residential, and we need a multi-storey car park and more parking, even if it’s paid parking, and the rents need to come down a lot to get more businesses in.’