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The way we shop is dictating the look and feel of our high streets but while Cambridge remains a destination location for shopping, it’s the independents calling the shots in the city’s secondary locations, as Laurence Gercke, Barker Storey Matthews’ retail specialist in the city, explains.

Last year (2018) brought an unprecedented wave of store closures, job losses, restructurings and administrations on the UK high street, leaving household brand name retailers battling for survival.

The buoyancy in Cambridge’s retail sector, from a property point of view, is coming from the independents.  And it’s those independent traders selling services you can’t buy online who are setting the tone in the city’s secondary shopping locations. 

Barbers, tattooists, beauticians and stylists.  While you might be able to book appointments with them online and pre-pay online, you can’t have a shave, a sleeve done, a massage or half head of lowlights without actually being there.

The beauty of independents is that the backer of the business is, more often than not, the owner of the business and a worker in the business itself too.  Life savings are invested in the business or the family house is mortgaged against it. 

Last summer, my colleague in Peterborough, Julian Welch, blogged about the willingness of landlords to consider the value of independent traders now in a way they wouldn’t have done a decade ago - pointing to the rise of the one-off coffee shops, cafés and micro-pubs in Cambridgeshire.

The property stock in Peterborough sees its independents able to trade in the city centre itself.  Whereas in Cambridge, the retail property stock in our historic city centre is, generally, beyond the reach of those kind of one-person start-ups and landlords of these properties are realistic when heeding the advice of their agents and advisers about potential occupiers’ covenant strengths.

The entry point of the property market for independent retailers here, in Cambridge, sees them looking to the secondary commercial locations such as Mill Road, Newmarket Road and neighbourhood shopping locations such as Cherry Hinton.  A retail instruction we took on at the end of January, for 48 sq m (517 sq ft) premises on Newmarket Road, saw us with five viewings in the first week. 

The demand from independent traders is there and so we’re encouraging landlords to bring forward their smaller premises for consideration now.

For more information on retail premises and the retail property scene in Cambridge, contact Laurence Gercke, 01223 467155, lg@bsm.uk.com.