It’s a fact: St Albans is full of cafes and restaurants

St Peter's Street definitely isn't low on coffee shops...

St Peter's Street definitely isn't low on coffee shops... - Credit: Archant

A local data analyst has confirmed what most St Albans residents have long suspected – the city centre is disproportionately full of food and drink establishments. Sarah Teague explains her findings...

St Albans shops chart (credit: Sarah Teague)

St Albans shops chart (credit: Sarah Teague) - Credit: Archant

Ensuring retail units are occupied is of vital importance to the health of any city centre and the impact of online shopping on traditional high street retailers has made this increasingly difficult. The role of the leisure and service industry has grown, both to fill those units and to attract visitors to the modern high street.

This was vividly highlighted during a recent survey I made of the retail, leisure and service outlets in St Albans city centre. The chart shows results from this survey; in rank order, the number of outlets in each category.

St Albans shops map (credit: Sarah Teague)

St Albans shops map (credit: Sarah Teague) - Credit: Archant

Firstly, leisure category ‘Food and Drink’ dominates with 113 outlets, made up of 50 restaurants, 30 cafes, 21 pubs and bars and 12 takeaways. This is more than twice its nearest rival, ‘Clothing’, with 48 outlets.

Of the top 10 categories, four are in the retail industry but an equal number are in the service industry, including 37 hairdressers and barbers, 27 estate agents, 19 in the finance industry and 14 in health and beauty.

As high streets shift away from retail and towards leisure and services have we become too dependent on restaurants and coffee shops to occupy units?

Is there an opportunity to add more variety to the leisure offer? Currently we have fewer ‘Kids Entertainment’ outlets (two) than betting shops (four), could the child-focussed provision be expanded, as demonstrated by Get Wild at Hatfield Galleria or Kidzania at Westfield?

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The map shows the location of all the shops surveyed, shaded by retail (red), leisure (blue) or service industry (green) and vacant (white).

The service and leisure industry units tend to be located in secondary areas of the city centre, the heart of St Albans is still driven by retail – centred around Market Place, St Peters Street, The Maltings and Christopher Place.

Retail businesses are the ones that occupy our larger units (note the still vacant BHS store and recent worrying news from M&S) and retail attracts footfall to visit all those coffee shops and restaurants.

High street retail faces many challenges and new ideas are needed to ensure we keep our city centre vibrant into the future.

(The twice-weekly market – a great asset to our city was unfortunately not included in my survey.)

Sarah Teague,