Getting The Most Out Of Dwindling High Street Trafficby Lesley Sampson Freelance Writer
The proportion of empty and unused shops on the high streets of many towns and cities is approaching historically high levels.
A report produced in the same month as this article even went so far as to suggest that the death of our high streets as centres of trade and commerce was inevitable, and independent traders, in particular, were in danger of dying out.
"The days of a high street populated simply by independent butchers, bakers and candlestick makers are over", said Mary Portas, who, after producing her review of the state of British high streets for the government, continues to act as a figurehead for campaigns to keep British high streets vibrant and enable them to diversify in order to be able to continue to attract customers in the numbers needed to enable businesses to stay viable.
Blogger Dan Thompson, writing on Independent.co.uk, has painted an alternative picture of a 'new' high street which takes into account one vital element which was missed out of Portas' high street review, namely their need to continue to be places which are attractive to young people.
"For anyone under 25, the town centre is a vital part of growing up," he writes. "It's a place to socialise, to spend some time, not just shop."
He takes issue with the Portas review, which contained a single mention of young people, in the context that they could find things to do in youth clubs which were relocated from their suburban sites into shops left empty by the ongoing cull of the retail trade.
But such suggestions are not tackling the main issue facing high streets – the mere fact that they just aren't seen as attractive places in which they can 'hang out', or simply socialise with their friends.
But one sure way of making high streets attractive to the next generation of shoppers is to populate them with shops which interest them in the first place. While a great deal of attention has been paid to how the existing major high street retailers can continue to have a strong presence, this has to be done in conjunction with a policy to attract a new breed of retailers to every town centre. These are stores which are run and staffed by local people, and therefore are attuned to their needs, and offer products which are distinctive and give people who don't have the means of getting to large out of town retail sites the ability to still find everything they need in a place which they can get to easily.
Such stores are not guaranteed a future, of course, but they can make great capital out of the fact that they stock local products, which are attuned to the needs and tastes of local people. And with the UK government keen to show that it is willing to support new and growing British business, through its Funding for Lending scheme, this could be a catalyst towards helping genuinely local businesses fight back against the increasing prevalence of multi-national companies on our high streets.
In effect, what we are likely to see, according to a great deal of research including from the British Chambers of Commerce, is a new generation of local stores, which go 'back to basics' to publicise their goods, by means of such products as UKPoS a boards, and persuade customers that shopping on the high street is the only way of ensuring that local entrepreneurs can compete against the multi-national giants.
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