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Monday, 12 December 2011

The State of the British High Street - Does Mary Portas have the Remedy?

With the busiest shopping day of the year just passed this weekend and records broken, retailers are breathing a huge sigh of relief...the shoppers are back! It has been such a slow start to the Christmas buying season that retailers have all panicked themselves into early sales! As I walked round a busy Sheffield city centre on Saturday, almost every single shop was in sale:- 20% off 25% off 30% off 50%
Sales may be up but profits are down if they are all in sale this early. The money made at Christmas covers the late March rents as spending slows after Christmas and January sales are out of the way. I can't help wondering which will be the next casualty of the quarterly rents.

Odd empty shops are apparent on the high street and Sheffield City Council has done a good job of hiding that by encouraging window displays in empty shops by local designers. It doesn't hide the fact that it's a shaky time for the high street and it's the same story in every high street in every town up and down the UK, some worse than others.

This has been a concern for retailers and politicians alike and Mary Portas has her long awaited review ready and due to be delivered to Downing Street tomorrow with her recommendations. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with - I have heard that she is encouraging councils to allow market stalls on the high street and she is absolutely right to do so.

Macclesfield Treacle Market is a prime example - going for just over a year this has brought life and soul in to the town on the last Sunday of every month. A mixture of food and craft stalls in gazebos run along the pedestrian walkways leading into the main market square.

"Macclesfield is known as Treacletown,referring to the centuries old accident when a horse drawn wagon overturned, spilling its cargo of Treacle onto the cobbles"

The shops were mostly shut until they realised the few enterprising cafes and shops that opened were often doing their best trading day of the month! Not only has it brought life in to the local economy for the local producers on the stalls, who all agree it is one of the best markets they attend, the local shops are benefiting too. It is literally heaving with people in a once empty and sorry looking Sunday town centre. Quality stalls, live music and activities make it a day out and not just a shopping trip.
There's no doubt Mary knows what she's talking about - and I really do hope that her review will lead to action that will inject some life blood in to our high streets. With competition from online shops, shopping centres and get 'everything under one roof' super markets the high street really does need to up its game and offer something a little bit more.

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