But this isn’t a mediaeval scene, a quaint country village or even a rundown modern market town struggling against the local out-of-town centre. This is London’s Hampstead Village where property prices remain high, shops are rarely vacant for long and on a sunny Sunday cafe-life is thriving.
So what is there for the well-heeled locals to worry about? It’s a problem of success. There are now 7 mobile phone shops within 50 yards of each other. Prudential, a seemingly absent landlord, is apparently bent on slowly devaluing their own asset. Installing the seventh mobile phone shop is a mistake. Without the support of a diverse range of retail offer and local services the High Street will decline. The pace may be slow but even in Hampstead the signs are there.
The government has committed Mary Portas and £1.2M to help a dozen high streets. A good start for them but what is also needed is a renewed interested in investing in the place and not simply the shopfront. Main streets need many things, including mobile phone shops, but in moderation. Hampstead residents have a history of engaging. The first McDonalds in the UK not to have a plastic shop front adorned in red and yellow livery was on Hampstead High Street; black. When Steeles, the butchers, closed residents wrote to various high end independent butchers letting them know that there was huge unmet demand. A butchers is back. Ten years ago residents down the road, in Primrose Hill, fought and succeeded in preventing Starbuck’s from opening - it was deemed against the village ambience. Primrose Hill has many independents and low vacancy rates. It is a success.
But local action and vociferous residents are not always enough. The main street needs a champion and the landlords should be part of the debate. The residents can provide great - and valuable - insight and the landlords can make it happen. Their asset will rise in value, shareholders will see longer term growth and the locals will benefit from a useful, thriving high street with all the environmental good that will bring.