Published: 13:43, 14 August 2020
| Updated: 13:46, 14 August 2020
Empty shops which fell victim to the Covid-19 pandemic are set to be filled amid a time of “hope and positivity” for Canterbury.
Clintons and Cath Kidston both bowed out of the city during peak lockdown, with their doors in Whitefriars and the high street remaining shut while other businesses came back to life.
But plans are now afoot to fill the vacant units.
Trainer retailer Skechers is opening in the old Clintons store, while proposals to turn Cath Kidston into a cafe have been submitted to the council.
It is likely Pret a Manger will expand their current premises into the former clothing unit in order to boast a larger presence in Canterbury.
Lisa Carlson, chief executive of the city’s Business Improvement District, says the plans prove the high street is still alive and kicking.
“These are both hugely welcome additions to Canterbury as it demonstrates there is much hope and positivity happening in the city despite the repercussions of coronavirus,” she said.
“We recognise there is still a long way to go for many businesses but this news, as well as the launch of other exciting businesses, proves Canterbury has a lot to offer.”
Pret has earmarked 30 branches for permanent closure in the wake of coronavirus, so its confidence in enlarging its Canterbury cafe is seen as a huge positive for the future of eateries in the city.
While the snack chain has not confirmed the move, developers - in an effort to draw in potential suitors - are keen to secure permission for a change of use for Cath Kidston from retail to cafe.
Planning agents P&DG state: “The vacancy presents a significant gap in Canterbury’s main shopping centre.
“High Street retailing is clearly undergoing structural change in the face of competition from online sales, and in common with many centres, Canterbury has also lost big names.
“The proposal would introduce additional flexibility, enabling a prompt re-use of the premises and avoiding long term vacancy.
“At present, the expansion of Pret a Manger is simply an option for the unit moving forward. Through permitting the unit as a mixed use, it opens it up to a greater number of occupiers.”
The plans are now with Canterbury City Council awaiting consideration.
Commenting on the proposals, shopper Gabriella Jones said: “I recently counted, for my sins, 13 empty shops in the city.
“You cannot afford to lose any more retail or restaurant operators here. Flexibility needs to be the name of the game.”
The proposals are a sign of the times for the high street, with focus shifting ever more towards food and drink rather than retail.
Two months ago, NewRiver, the firm managing Whitefriars, indicated turning empty shops into restaurants will help revitalise the city centre.
In an application to turn the soon-be-vacant Game store into an eatery, it stressed how there is a demand for more food operators in the city.
The row of city centre shops in Butchery Lane which have stood empty for almost three years - following Turtle Bay’s ill-fated attempt to open a Caribbean restaurant - are set to soon become home to 7Bone Burger.
The national chain, which is yet to have a presence in Kent, has secured a premises license to sell alcohol on site, with opening times of 9am until 11pm - and till midnight on Saturdays.
An opening date for 7Bone is yet to be revealed.
Meanwhile, in a move which proves the city can still draw in retailers, Skechers is due to be opening in the coming weeks.
The store next to Boots is currently being kitted out and jobs for sales assistants and a manager are being advertised.
Mrs Carlson added: “Many proactive steps are being taken throughout Canterbury to enhance the city’s offering and we look forward to helping these businesses make their mark in the city.”