Despite challenges with supplies and labour shortages as well as rising costs and not to mention waves of uncertainty around Covid-19, Kingston town centre has welcomed 28 new businesses over the past year.

Kingston First Business Improvement District is a not-for-profit organisation, funded by and representing businesses in Kingston Town Centre, dedicated to creating a town where businesses can thrive and people want to be. They are democratically elected every 5 years, and have a Board, comprising representatives from different sectors in London. Recently they published a report that makes for surprisingly cheery reading:

New businesses are great for the local economy – they provide jobs and get people spending money, helping to contribute to a thriving town centre and high street. The imminent arrival of upmarket bakery Gail’s and Curzon cinema to the town centre is a testament that Kingston is a place businesses want to be.

But what about those empty shops you pass everyday? What’s going on with those I hear you say? Here at Kingston First, the town’s Business Improvement District, we’ve been tracking the number of ground-floor empty shops for just over a year. We want to know the backstory behind every shop that’s vacant so we can better understand what the challenges are and help identify new tenants to create a diverse offer and experience in the town centre.

The current state of play

If you go around the town and count up all the ground floor empty shops (as we do on a regular basis) you’ll find we have 47. Initially, that doesn’t sound good and certainly doesn’t portray an image of a thriving town centre. But by digging deeper we know that 16 of those shops are actually part of a development, such as the one on Fife Road, or have been let and are waiting for the tenant to move in. Another 14 are under offer, so that leaves 17 ground floor shops that are actually vacant, out of 511 ground floor shops in total.

Not every town centre does this deep dive into empty shops but we know that the vacancy rate for the UK was 11.2% and 9.2% in London as of April 2022 (the data doesn’t drastically change quarter on quarter) so Kingston is actually doing quite well in terms of vacancy in the town centre. Some level of vacancy on the high street is actually a good thing as it creates opportunities for new businesses to open.

The challenges we are facing

The challenge we face as a town centre is creating a real mix of businesses. We’d like to see more independents, start-ups, pop-ups, local artists and to give community groups a home in the town centre – we know residents, visitors and local businesses want this too. But our experience so far has highlighted that high rents and business rates and the reluctance of some landlords to let on a shorter-term basis or to a lesser known name means it’s not always easy to make this happen. We’d love to cover all empty shop windows with artwork from local artists and the student community but sometimes struggle to get permission from landlords.

Our work to change the minds of estate agents and landlords and to find ways to support smaller businesses continues. So next time you walk past an empty shop, don’t sigh with disapproval – remember there’s a story why it’s vacant and more often than not there’s a new opportunity that Kingston First is exploring.

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Last Updated on September 2, 2022 by Kingston Society