• David Grammig

What The Pandemic Could Mean For Villages and Small Towns

While hospitality, arts & culture, retail and the travel industry suffer from the ongoing corona pandemic and are generally considered as the forgotten and unsupported sufferers of the crisis, some of them also make for unexpected winners.

Immobilien aktuell, the real estate media outlet of one of Switzerland’s cantonal banks ZKB, noted that long held believes are being tested and declared invalid in times of crises like the one we experience at the moment. While nobody ever questioned the real estate truism of “Location, Location, Location”, ZKB analyzed that this is no longer an uncontested truth. With reoccurring shut downs and continuously high levels of home office work, expensive city center locations are increasingly deserted. People who don’t go to the downtown office also don’t get their lunches there. They don’t get their groceries in the increasing number of express convenience stores with limited offers and inflated prices. They also don’t go for drinks after work in fancy bars or dine in expensive restaurants.

In pre-pandemic times most shopping activity took place in the city center, close to one’s workplace. Long working hours or lengthy commutes into the suburbs of large cities like London or Paris also meant that people shop at train stations, in small and easy to carry quantities – several times a week. With the majority of people currently working from home and many firms having announced to introduce permanent home office practices, especially the retail and gastronomy sectors might face challenging times in central locations until they are as busy as during pre-pandemic times.

The winners of the current situation are retailers, restaurants and take-aways in more residential areas. People staying at home means they also shop, eat and consume locally, a trend monitored by ZKB[1]. What does that mean for the long run? One trend that could be observed was an increased search for housing. While more people are looking for larger apartments, an increasing number is also looking at more rural alternatives. With less frequent appearances at the office, many consider to move further out of the city and accept a longer commute which doesn’t need to be undertaken on a daily basis. Bigger and cheaper housing is available for those willing to turn their backs on the city. With an increasing influx into small towns becoming the center of living and working, they need to step up their game offering alternatives of stationary retail and gastronomy. People permanently working from home, who do not leave the house to go to the office will appreciate every opportunity to get out to do the groceries or grab a coffee during their break.

Urbanization is a trend that has led to the continuous downfall of small towns and villages across Europe or the US, causing a shortage of housing in metropoles and astronomic rents. Cities with dwindling populations should realize that the home office trend could lead at least to a slow down of Urbanization and bring people back into the countryside. With lower rents to pay citizens will have more disposal income – money they can spend locally in shops that pay their taxes locally, too.

Covid-19 led us to re-evaluate we held dear for a long time. The pandemic kicked off new trends or reversed old ones. While the pandemic had disastrous effects and destroyed the lives and livelihoods of many, it offers, just like any other crisis, the opportunity to go down a new path, implement change and improve on old habits.

[1] https://www.zkb.ch/media/contenthub-immobilien/publikationen/immobilien-aktuell/Immobilien_aktuell-2020-12.pdf

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