So far this year, nearly 650 retail and restaurant brands on our high streets have closed – but which ones will you miss and which long-gone shops do you wish were still in business?
When I bought my first flat in the area where I still live in north London, I was terribly excited.
Aside from no longer having to pay rent to a landlord and being able to really put my stamp on a property (I painted one of the bedrooms a lurid pink, which fills me with horror now I think back), I would be within walking distance of two (count ‘em) multi-screen cinemas, several chain restaurants and a thriving high street with shops I ordinarily had to trek into central London for.
At the bottom end was a BHS, which became my go-to for soft furnishings. Somewhere in the middle was a Dorothy Perkins, a River Island and a fairly substantial Marks & Spencer.
And at the top end was (and still is) the shopping mall. Back then, it had everything I wanted, including a Topshop, a Topman (for gifts), a large Waterstones complete with coffee shop, a HMV, an Early Learning Centre (great for entertaining younger relatives), a department store called Pearsons and, the don of the high street – a Woolworths.
State of my high street
Fast-forward 15 or so years and not one of these shops still exists on my high street. In their place are charity shops, several pound shops, mobile phone providers, barbers, bookies, lots of independents selling market-stall-style polyester, and several more flogging vapes and gaudy mobile phone cases. There are also a fair few empty units.
These days I barely venture on to my high street, unless I need the bank or want something from Argos, Boots, WH Smiths (now home to the nearest post office), H&M or the newish Primark – the only shops still worth going for, in my opinion.
And the decline of my local town centre isn’t, of course, unique – the latest Which? research on Britain’s changing high streets over the past 25 years will resonate with many readers – and it looks like it’s only going to get worse.
This year is already shaping up to be the worst for shop closures since the 2008 crash. So far, nearly 650 retail and restaurant brands on our high streets have closed. Last year saw the closure of 5,855 stores, and a new report from the Centre for Retail Research predicts more than 10,000 will disappear this year.
As well as Maplin stores, which went into administration earlier this year, these could include half of the House of Fraser department stores and branches of New Look, Monsoon, Mothercare and M&S.
The combined forces of the digital age, rent increases and business rates rising above inflation seems to be seeing off the high street, and politicians are so worried about it that they have launched an inquiry into its future.
Personally, I’ve never got over the loss of Woolworths and I’m still in mourning for my local BHS. But what about you? What high street shops do you wish were still in business? And what do you think is the future for the high street? What would you do to save it?