Hipster High Street

Recent headlines of big name closures and an epidemic of CVAs, have added to the growing negative perception of retail.

While the growing presence of online shopping has proven challenging for retailers, the outlook of the future is not necessarily as bleak as it has been made out.

It is true that large format bricks and mortar stores have been waning in their popularity among consumers, but there is a growing trend towards the high street,.  Many consumers now want to support local businesses and a local identity, which, if tapped in to correctly, can play a key role in the development and regeneration of our towns and cities.

Outwardly shunning big name, global corporates in favour of your local shopkeeper started as a largely London phenomenon – in trendy, young ‘hipster’ locations such as Shoreditch and Hackney

But these ‘hipsters’ are growing up. They are moving, and their ideas are spreading, to the suburbs and to new towns and cities. This means a greater demand for a ‘hipster high street’ across the UK, complete with vaping shops, coffee shops, smart looking charity shops and a local grocer. What started as a self-proclaimed sub-culture opposing modern large-scale retailing is, therefore, quickly gaining ground and becoming a mainstream view.

This is something not just happening in the UK – but globally as well. On a recent work trip to Washington D.C, colleagues were explaining how even in the car-centred culture of the states, consumers were shunning traditional inward facing shopping centres in favour of the high street.

This may sound like the end to big name retailing, but far from it. While outwardly supporting local businesses, this growing group of consumers also shops in and desires some of its favourite high street names. Retail locations must therefore offer a healthy mix between nationwide brands, alongside these local businesses.

This has a huge impact on the way we approach the design of new and existing retail schemes. As a practice, we are increasingly seeing a demand for smaller format stores. These are being used to proactively target much loved local businesses, to encourage them to open new stores or relocate, but also to target nationwide brands with. Many traditionally shopping centre located retailers are increasingly looking for a small footprint in a target city or town centre location where they can showcase a selection of their merchandise with the rest available online or via click and collect.

The hipster high street model is also best achieved by tapping into the desire for community. This manifests through the delivery of more mixed-use schemes that offer community spaces, such as libraries, doctors and flexible working spaces, alongside retail for the full ‘hipster high street’ experience.

This is where local authority money comes in. These uses are not generally commercially viable for the private sector in the current retail market. If we are to unlock the ‘hipster high street’ we will therefore require public sector money - and knowledge of those favourite local retailers – to work alongside the private sector’s expertise and skills.

This changing the focus of retail schemes towards the community also has further impact on their design. It means quite literally turning them away from the inward facing architecture of the past towards publicly accessible open spaces. This helps ingrain the scheme as part of the area, rather than a separate sealed entity of the traditional shopping centre.

Bricks & Mortar retailing therefore does need to adapt. It needs to become more localised, unique and community focused. But there is still significant room for nationwide brands – provided they adapt to the new hipster high street ethos.

James Cons, Managing Director, Leslie Jones Architecture