January 20, 2012 The Economist
Britons don’t want their high streets to decay, but neither do they like to shop in them. Those desires are hard to reconcile.
DUNSTABLE is not a deprived place, although a look at its main street suggests otherwise. Roughly one in four shops in this Bedfordshire town of 35,000 people, north-west of London, lies empty. Some have acquired a decayed look. The shops that seem to be thriving are weighted towards chain stores and payday loan outfits. It does not help that Dunstable’s high street is part of the A5, a dead-straight Roman road filled with cars. But even the town’s purpose-built shopping centres, set back from the main road, are partly empty.
Many British high streets are sickly, and some are in a critical condition. In December a report commissioned by the government claimed that one in three of the nation’s high streets is failing. Almost 15,000 shops in town centres closed between 2000 and 2009, with a further 10,000 losses in the past couple of years. There followed a lousy Christmas season for high-street fixtures like Argos, a catalogue chain, Mothercare, a baby clothier, and Thorntons, a chocolate maker. They plan to close up to one third of their shops.
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