Published: 15:06, 28 February 2021
| Updated: 07:36, 01 March 2021
April 12 will herald the return of the non-essential retailer as shops reopen their shutters following months of damaging hibernation.
A gradual return to some form of normality is on the horizon - but Canterbury city centre will look somewhat different to its pre-pandemic state, with 23 businesses closing down since March and 23 also opening.
A raft of retailers - including Cafe Rouge, Yo! Sushi and Dorothy Perkins - have been forced to quit the city due to the monumental financial impact of the virus and the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
But, despite the doom and gloom, there are also big glimmers of promise as new businesses continue to see the profit potential Canterbury has to offer.
Just this month, plans have been submitted for a new fish and chip restaurant in Burgate - taking up the premises vacated by the short-lived Warrens Bakery branch which closed last year.
Should it be approved, the store, near to the Cathedral entrance, will be turned into a mini restaurant and operate under the name Seafarer.
Canterbury Business Improvement District chief executive Lisa Carlson says the continued interest in the city is a very positive sign for the future.
“Looking back to last time lockdown lifted, footfall was only down 15% on the year back in August,” she said. “That really bucked the trend, and I think we’ll see that again as Canterbury is an open-air city, so you’re never far away from a park or garden. It helps make people feel safe.
“Remarkably, we’ve had 23 businesses open since March across the city. There are lots of positives and signs that Canterbury will be OK but I don’t want to understate the impact on our hospitality businesses in particular.”
The neighbouring unit to the proposed fish and chip shop is also currently vacant following the departure of Korean sushi firm, Kyoto.
Another Asian cuisine outlet to bow out of the city is worldwide chain, Yo! Sushi - located about 100 metres away in Sun Street. Diners will no longer be able to pick out food of their fancy from a conveyor belt after the firm pulled the plug on its three-year presence in Canterbury.
As it fights for survival, the chain has axed 250 jobs and shut 19 of its 69 UK restaurants.
As for the high street, walkers heading through the city’s main drag are currently met with the now long-vacant Nasons shop and the city centre’s biggest empty unit, the redundant Debenhams store.
And now on the casualty list is another large and empty store - this time in the form of Burton and Dorothy Perkins. Stripped bare and on the market, any hope that the old clothes shop could reopen was diminished two weeks ago week with the news that online retailer Boohoo had bought the brands for £25.2 million.
The assets of the businesses, which were formerly owned by Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia retail empire, will now move solely to the digital age - spelling the demise of 214 shops.
Another of Sir Philip’s firms, Topshop, has left the city following the company’s collapse. The large unit in Whitefriars now stands empty.
Thankfully, the plans to transform the Nasons and Debenhams sites remain on the table but the proposals for each still remain undecided.
Adjacent to Dorothy Perkins, French restaurant Cafe Rouge has closed down and the Jack Wills store is on the market, seeking new occupiers - though stock from the clothing retailer still remains inside.
Its neighbour, the TSB bank, closed its doors for good a fortnight ago - with the firm stating; “even prior to Covid-19, customers were choosing other ways to bank with us”.
In positive news, at the top end of the city centre, German Doner Kebab has secured permission to convert the old Game store into one of its branches.
Having left the city centre, the departing gaming retailer is now getting ready to open inside the Sports Direct superstore in Sturry Road once lockdown is lifted.
Further down the high street, next to Hotel Chocolat, an Indian wrap-making company has moved into the former unit occupied by Flight Centre and opened its doors for the first time during this third lockdown.
Wrapchic, which has about a dozen stores elsewhere, has chosen Canterbury as its first base in Kent.
The expanding firm prides itself on being “the world’s very first eatery that wraps together all the exciting and vibrant flavours of Indian street food, into an easy to eat grab-and-go format”.
Turning onto St Margaret’s Street, the former Alice And The Hatter tearoom - which opened in 2017 but shut last year - is on the market, while three of the units in the Marlowe Arcade are currently vacant. Meanwhile, the £20 million rebuild of Slatters Hotel as a Hampton by Hilton continues to take shape.
This month, a premises licence to enable the sale of alcohol at the new soon-to-open site has been lodged with the city council. The six-storey hotel, which will boast a rooftop restaurant, is set to launch this year.
As for the former Beaverbrooks jewellers, Bubbles Ci-Tea - a UK chain specialising in Taiwanese-style tea - was planning on taking up residence at the empty site opposite Fenwick.
It has gained permission to install its illuminated branding on the store’s exterior, but a bid to make modifications to the shop-front has recently been withdrawn.
Elsewhere, permission has been secured to convert the high street’s former Cath Kidston into a cafe. It is likely Pret a Manger will expand its current premises into the former clothing unit in order to boast a larger presence in the city.
As for the long-empty Poundworld unit in the lower half of the high street, the large store remains vacant after three years - with no sign of anyone taking on the site.
The Tacos Locos restaurant, next to Nandos, is also on the market to be rented out to a new tenant for £90,000 a year.
A few stores away, the old Gourmet Burger Kitchen branch stands empty after the firm decided to pull out of Canterbury last autumn.
Slug & Lettuce has ditched its bid to open in the former Currys PC World in Longmarket, but the plans to convert the empty unit into a bar still remain.
As for Paperchase, it had tumbled into administration but a rescue deal has saved the firm.
Twenty-seven stores are to close permanently, but the Canterbury branch is not.