We are told we are in the middle of a recovery, but what does the pattern of new store openings indicate?

We are told we are in the middle of a recovery, but what does the pattern of new store openings indicate?

It’s nearly two weeks since Sports Direct welcomed shoppers to its new Oxford Street flagship and we are on the verge of Foyles unveiling what its new flagship will look like.

Couple this with what’s happening at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 (something of a central London outpost), where, among other things, John Lewis will open its first airport shop, and that’s a very busy period in terms of high profile retail projects coming to fruition.

Glance at the pages of Retail-week.com over the last week and you’ll find contrary opinions about whether we’re in recovery or not and it’s hard to read the runes.

On the one hand there are surveys showing that consumer confidence is riding high, but by the same token considerable doubts are being expressed about the wisdom of retailers’ IPOs and whether they are likely to be successful.

The same is probably true of the store-opening panorama. Central London remains a prime location. Visit Oxford or Regent Streets on any day of the week and it’s something of a fight to make your way along them, or at times to get served in the shops that line their length, so keen are shoppers to spend. Yet it is surely no coincidence that the great bulk of the new store action seems to have been centred on the capital.

Travel out just a few miles to one of the larger satellite towns that ring London, think Watford, Croydon or perhaps Romford, and the story is different.

Admittedly, Croydon will get a shot in the arm when Westfield and Hammerson do their thing and open a new scheme in 2018 or thereabouts, but meantime this is a town, like others, where vacant shop units and discount stores still seem to be in the ascendant.

For retailers and new stores, as for other parts of the commercial landscape, we are in a two-speed economy where one vast megalopolis acts as a black hole sucking in the best efforts of all who can afford to set up shop there and perhaps leaving little for elsewhere.

The outcome is a London feel-good factor that stretches from Hammersmith in the west to Shoreditch in the east, but it is quite hard to work out whether it extends much beyond this.

That things are better than they were is probably true. It is a moot point, on the evidence of new stores coming to market however, whether this sense of wellbeing will be evenly distributed, if it is distributed at all.