‘Back to the future’ as mini supermarkets revitalise our high streets

By Sean Byrne, ThomsonAdsett Group Director Retail

Australia’s suburban high streets are about to enjoy a resurgence, led by small national brand supermarkets that offer residents of city suburbs the chance to once again do all their shopping locally.

There is no denying that large-scale shopping centres have had an impact on local shopping precincts, with consumers following their favourite shops away from high streets and into the large centres anchored by national chains.

While those large centres offer a “one-stop-shop” for everything from sports equipment and haircuts to banking, they also mean that buying the weekly groceries can require a car trip and an excursion into a labyrinth of shops.

Many of Brisbane’s traditional village streets are suffering from a lack of parking and the presence of an anchor.  In recent years – and even more so since the advent of COVID-19 restrictions – shoppers have been demanding a return to the “local” shopping experience, where they can get everything they need during a walk down their local high street.

The lucky ones will be able to leave their cars at home but even the worst-case scenario will be a quick drive to the shops and the use of off-street parking underneath a small version of a familiar national supermarket chain.

It’s good news for not only local shoppers but also for the high streets, which are crying out for anchors that will bring shoppers “back home”.  These smaller format supermarkets will complement the full-line supermarkets located in larger centres and offer suburban residents more choice for their daily needs.

And while the branding on these mini supermarkets will be familiar, their offerings may not be, as there will be a focus on appealing to the tastes of local consumers.

We recently designed Coles Local supermarkets for the affluent Brisbane suburbs of Bardon and Taringa, where smaller supermarkets are the ideal solution for revitalising high streets that have taken a back seat to large shopping centres in recent years.

DAs for both projects are currently with Brisbane City Council.

The Bardon project is a 1725 sqm Coles Local supermarket with a 150sqm Vintage Cellars.  An activated street frontage reflects the high street building scale, as is the timber and tin materials palette of the pre-1946 houses in the suburb. It will offer off-street parking for 105 cars, with a Translink City Glider bus stop right at the front door.

The Taringa project will be a 2690 sqm supermarket with a 150sqm Liquorland and 99 off-street parking spaces.  Carefully articulated facades front Moggill Road and Swann Road, including a prominent architectural corner element.  Taringa QR station is about 250m from the site and bus stops are immediately adjacent.

Both mini supermarkets will be suburb specific, providing a tailored Coles range alongside different lines that will appeal to the local demographic. They will also feature goods from local suppliers – be it local fruit and vegetables or specialist lines.

And with onsite parking provided under each centre, locals who still have to drive from home will do so confident they will find parking just a short walk from all the shops.

The provision of parking is key to keeping village high streets alive, as people will usually take the easiest option. Supermarket operators are well aware that shoppers are focused on convenience and enjoy being able to walk to the shops or at least be certain of a parking space while they wander down the street to the local butcher, hairdresser etc.

It’s a scenario with many winners.

People will get to do their shopping close to home – maybe even within walking distance; traffic will be taken off the broader road network and small businesses already operating in the high streets will get a welcome boost as the shopping strip is revitalised.

Smart use of landscaping can be used to soften the look of the main street and provide shoppers with areas to sit and relax, enjoy a coffee and catch up with their neighbours.

I know it sounds like a scene from 1960s Australia but anyone who remembers those times will know that maintaining links with the community was one of the simple pleasures we took for granted, and has gradually disappeared.

Revitalising our village high streets is a step “back to the future” that will change the way we live, one suburb at a time.

This article was first published in Inside Retail here.