Suddenly a stroll along the high street of any of the United Kingdom's large cities has become a dispiriting experience. More than 1,000 stores – mostly mid-sized by retailers' standards – are being emptied this month thanks to the demise of Woolworths, Zavvi, USC, Adams, Whittards and Officers' Club, all major names that have gone into administration in recent weeks.
Maplins, New Look, JJBSports and Pets At Home are tipped to be next and will be merely the tip of the iceberg, according to market research company Experian.
It says some 1,600 retailers will go out of business in 2009, triggering thousands of job losses and leaving more than one in 10 shops empty.
Further down the retail food chain come the small one- or two-branch independent shops in market towns and villages, which are already closing in high numbers but without the publicity created by the internationally-recognised brands.
Little wonder, then, that retail rents fell last year for the first time since 1993.
In 2008 they dipped just 0.4 per cent according to property consultancy King Sturge but the firm forecasts a 5.6 per cent drop this year, another 4.7 per cent down in 2010 and 2.1 per cent down in 2011.
Few believe long-awaited retail-led regeneration schemes in many cities throughout the UK will now go ahead as scheduled, creating a still-larger divide between those "first division" cities that enjoyed new retail projects in the past decade and those "lower division" locations that have their town centres falling into disrepair.
Dispiriting? Of course. But perhaps this will steel the nerves to ensure that when recovery comes, so will the modernisation of those poorer UK shopping centres left untouched in the Millennium boom years.
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