Retail sector showing early signs of recovery
THE battered retail sector is showing tentative signs of recovery from the financial crisis.
A major traders' survey has revealed that the number of vacant shops has dropped by 40pc in just 12 months.
There are growing indications that commercial landlords and letting agents are beginning to slash rents in a bid to make sure premises are occupied.
The Cork City Occupancy Survey (CCOS) -- which is taken as a barometer of retail trade nationally -- was hailed as offering proof that, after three brutal years, the retail sector may finally be rebounding.
However, trader groups warned that a full recovery will depend on commercial credit being freed up, and a continued reduction in operating costs for Irish retailers.
The study found that:
- Overall vacancy rates on Cork's main shopping streets fell by 41pc.
- The bulk of new shops are chain stores or branches of long-established outlets.
- Most landlords are now willing to concede discounted rents or short-term leases to ensure ground-floor premises are occupied.
- High vacancy rates are focused in areas where a significant number of buildings were empty before the financial crisis erupted in late 2008.
The study found there were 63 vacant premises across the eight major Cork city centre shopping areas -- compared to 108 in 2010.
Study coordinator Barry Keane said the results are "very encouraging" but he acknowledged that it also raised key issues for all major Irish cities.
"There are things arising such as the need for councils to sort out the remaining blackspots and for NAMA to make a decision on the commercial premises it owns and let them back on to the market as soon as possible," he said.
Mr Keane said another issue is the need for local authorities to take action over premises that have been vacant for four years or more.
Mr Keane defended the survey -- which is supported by Fine Gael -- as offering a clear measuring stick for retail fortunes.
"We have been criticised in both of the last two years for publishing this survey as it was 'talking down the city centre'. Hopefully, the critics will be as vocal in talking up the city as a result of this first piece of good news in three years," he added.