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Can Mary Queen of Shops save the UK High Street?

Retail guru Mary Portas has been appointed by the Government to investigate how to stem the growing tide of vacant shops on Britain’s high street.

It is a tough task even for the straight-talking Mary ‘Queen of Shops’. Town centre vacancy rates have doubled over the past two years to 14.5pc as more and more retailers are forced to pull down the shutters on their business.

Margate was picked out as the worst hit town earlier this year, with 37.4pc of its shops sitting empty. And cash-strapped consumers are expected to keep their purse strings tightly bound.

A report published earlier this week by the Ernst & Young Item Club raised the prospect that high street spending would not return to pre-recession levels until 2013.

Those that are still spending are increasingly opting for the convenience of the internet or out-of-town malls with their big car parks and larger stores.

Town centres have seen their slice of total retail spending fall to 42pc last year from just under 50pc in 2000. Out-of-town retailers saw a 11.5pc increase in sales from 2005 to 2010 compared with 1.5pc growth at town centre shops.
Portas will concentrate on how to develop more diverse high streets by increasing the number of small and independent retailers doing business in local town centres. But shop closures by retail chains have also played a major role in leaving towns feeling empty.

The demise of Woolworths and Zavvi to name just a few have left big gaps on high streets. More recently Oddbins collapsed into administration. And a number of retailers are shrinking their chains.

O2, HMV, Waterstones and Thorntons are all reducing stores, the Local Data Company noted in a report published earlier this year. It said it was town centres with the highest density of multiple retailers that were tending towards increasing vacancy.
It added: ‘More store reductions are planned by many multiples so this impact can only increase in the year.’ Portas is calling for businesses, local authorities and shoppers to contribute their ideas on how to save Britain’s high streets.

She will report back by the autumn.

Source : Tamsin Brown - Daily

18 May 2011
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