EC1-based tech firm Appear Here is trying to fill the gaps in decimated shopping streets
The death of the high street has been a subject of concern since well before the pandemic. But after the chilling effects on Covid-19 on public life started to bite, it became more acute yet. In Clerkenwell, busy markets emptied out and some businesses have sadly closed, leaving gaps in the street.
There is one way forward, however, and that is the pop-up shop model pioneered by Appear Here, whose London HQ is based in Vine Hill off Clerkenwell Road. Described as the AirBnB of retail space, Appear Here has been around since 2012 and has an international presence – but the pandemic has given it an urgent new role. Some will have seen its effects in Exmouth Market over the winter period, where the empty Borough Wines store was used for a temporary shop. Empty again, on its window is now the Appear Here hashtag #savethestreet.
This model makes retail space more flexible and accessible, says Alice Ratcliffe, Appear Here’s Head of Brand. “Previously, you had to take a store for five years and there was often an ‘old boy’s club’ aspect to letting,” she says. “Now you can have a go without being lumbered with a long lease. You can have a store for a week, month or year – the idea being that you can test your products or clothing brands or food concept on the market without making crippling mistakes. Retailers need a degree of flexibility these days and this provides it.” The Appear Here model opens retail business to a far wider section of society, argues Ratcliffe.
“We found that 70 per cent of our database are women, and they tend to be from more diverse backgrounds.” It is also about the way, quite aside from the pandemic, that retail is changing. Shops have become just one part of a wider retail offer that also includes e-commerce on the Internet and even events.
“It’s less about ‘popup versus permanent’ and more about new ways to test ideas in the market and community building,” she says. “And apart from stock, the retailers doesn’t have to spend loads of money on it.” This way, it helps keep money in the community, too: “If you buy from an independent, it’s said that 63p in the pound stays in the area, whereas that’s only 40p with a multiple.”
And landlords seem to like it – if they are broad-minded enough – as Appear Here keeps space occupied, particularly in central areas like Clerkenwell and Covent Garden where footfall has dropped dramatically. They get some discretion in being able to specify whether they want a florist, café or fashion store – although it can also be groceries and essentials. In upmarket Westbourne Grove in west London, the Notting Hill Fish Shop opened last year and has now become a permanent fixture on a road known for fashion brands.
With Covid continuing to ravage retail, Appear Here has acquired a new relevance. “With the numbers of unemployed and the closed shops – not to mention a lack of Government support – mean that there’s an urgent need to look anew at retail streets. When lockdown ceases Appear Here advocates a retail version of the Chancellor’s “Eat Out to Help Out” to help keep money in local areas.