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August 3, 2009    

LDC report reveals woes for retailers

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by Kay Murchie

Research from the Local Data Company (LDC) has revealed the tough times retailers have experienced during the economic downturn.

The economic downturn has meant consumers have tightened their purse strings, having a devastating affect on trade.

The iconic department store, Woolworths, collapsed under a mountain of debt at the end of last year, while other big names that went bust included furniture retailer MFI, music and games retailer, Zavvi, The Officer’s Club and Whittard of Chelsea.

However, a report by the LDC revealed that the number of vacant shops has doubled in some areas.

So far this year, approximately 12,000 independent shops and almost 7,000 branches of major chains have closed in England and Wales.

Meanwhile, the LDC said the average retail vacancy rate has soared to nearly 12% - up from 4% a year ago.

The north of England has suffered heavily having experienced a doubling of vacancy rates since the middle of 2008, compared with Wales and the West where empty shop numbers have increased by 25%.

However, the town which has been the worst hit is Margate in Kent, with a rate of 25%. Leeds and Liverpool in the north also have rates of over 20%.

In the meantime, the highest retail vacancy rate of any major urban centre is in Derby at 22%, with Wolverhampton in the West Midlands a close second.

However, one of the best performers with a rate of just 2.5% was Nottingham.

Commenting on its research, the LDC said: “Just as thriving town centres demonstrate vitality, empty shops lay bare weakness and failure.”

“Empty shops have a corrosive effect upon the confidence of any area - and their numbers are growing. The damage is spread across the country and affects all levels of the retail hierarchy from the largest regional centre to the smallest high street,” added the LDC.

A spokeswoman for Communities and Local Government stressed that a lot was being done to help those struggling on the high street.

Just last month, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said High Street shops are faced with a bleak outlook.

The BRC said: “Vacant units are perhaps one of the most visible impacts of the economic downturn. Shoppers who are unable to ignore increasingly visible vacant units in their local communities are likely to further reinforce falling consumer confidence”.

The BRC has been exploring ways to prevent the ever-declining High Street and is calling for better transport links to make it easier for shoppers to get to struggling areas.

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