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Cape Town CBD business confidence soars

by Sandra Gordon 14 Apr 2023

Despite warnings in the early stages of the pandemic that the Work From Home trend would cripple central business districts globally, the Cape Town Central City economy has rebounded quickly and is currently holding steady. 

Not only are there more retail outlets in the Central City than before the onset of the pandemic, but confidence among retailers and commercial property owners has soared – and has held up relatively well in early 2023 – despite the parlous state of the national economy as severe loadshedding takes its toll.

Nearly 80 % of the 230 retailers surveyed in the City Centre by the CCID during Q1 of 2023 indicated that they were “satisfied” with current business conditions. 

This is a modest deterioration from the previous quarter’s high of 83.3 % at the end of 2022, but it represents a significant improvement on the 22.9 % of retailers who were satisfied with trading conditions in mid-2020 when the CCID first started the survey.


One of the key reasons underpinning business confidence is the fact that certain key parts of the CBD are insulated from loadshedding. A large number of businesses and residents in town are shielded from power disruptions suffered by the rest of the country. This has been a particularly important benefit during Q1 of 2023, when higher levels of loadshedding were the norm. 

In December 2019 – a few months before the pandemic – there were 1 237 estimated retail outlets in the CBD, according to the State of Cape Town Central City Report 2020 – A year in review, published by the CCID. By the end of 2020, this had decreased to 1 163 but the retail sector was quick to adjust to the new trading conditions and, as lockdown restrictions eased, the sector quicky recovered. 

By the end of last year, the number of retailers had risen to an estimated 1 243 – with new businesses, such as the recently launched Starbucks outlet on the Foreshore, continuing to open in 2023.

Puma Select Store
The Puma Select retail outlet in the Cape Town CBD.


In a bid to monitor the impact of the pandemic on business owners in town, the CCID began surveying retailers in May 2020. Businesses were asked what plans they were putting in place to survive the new trading environment, including adjusting trading hours, laying off staff or relying on e-commerce. 

Initially, retailers focused on reducing their expenses in response to reduced footfall and lower levels of business activity. However, as the months passed and office workers returned to the workplace in town, the focus shifted to maintaining the status quo. 


In Q1 of 2023, the vast majority of retailers indicated that they were satisfied that their businesses were well placed for the current business environment, and those who did plan to make changes were focused on hiring additional staff and extending trading hours.

Encouragingly, the recovery in the Central City economy is not limited to the retail sector. Landlords of the CBD’s larger commercial buildings report an influx of smaller financial and tech start-ups and waiting lists for co-working spaces, while other commercial buildings are being converted into mixed-use or residential buildings.

One Thibault is an example of a commercial building on the Foreshore that has been redeveloped into half-commercial, half-residential and is now home to offices as well as a flourishing residential pool available for short-term lets. Purely residential conversions include The Carrington in Loop Street and Foreshore Place (formerly the Absa building) in Adderley Street.

Amber on Bree
Amber on Bree, a new retail venue in town.


The influx of new financial and digital small-scale businesses and the success of residential conversions has resulted in the office vacancy space in the Central City dropping from a high of 16.1 % at the end of 2021 to 13.3 % at the end of last year. 

While the Cape Town CBD had the highest office vacancy rate among the seven business nodes in the Mother City monitored by the SA Property Owners Association (SAPOA) before the pandemic, by the end of last year there were three office nodes with higher vacancy rates – highlighting the recovery in the CBD economy.

The return of businesses to offices in the Central City, combined with the steady influx of new residents to the growing residential property market, creates a supportive environment for the inner city’s retailers who are supported by a growing market of customers and patrons.

IMAGES: Carmen Lorraine

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