Retail's new look

Independent shops bring new life to Britain’s high streets

Stockbridge shops

Stockbridge has a number of popular independent shops (pic: Terry Murden)

Independent shops are outperforming major retailers, helping to revive a traditional style of shopping, according to new research.

While Bon Marche yesterday added to the chains that are continuing to disappear, consumer group Which? says smaller, locally-owned stores are popping up to replace them.

Food and drink stores, funeral directors, tattoo parlours and hair salons are among those which are transforming “carbon copy” high streets into a model of personal services and specialists.

Which? measured 1.5 million Ordinance Survey records to compare the shape of British high streets between 2014 and 2019, with a focus on businesses that do not have a high online presence.

Ten business categories have seen an increase in the number of premises on high streets – with six of those being in “eating out and services”.

The biggest increase has been in banqueting and function rooms, which have seen a 114% rise in the number of premises.

Those listed as “food, drink and multi-item retail” services, which saw an increase of 52%, with markets seeing a similar rise.

There are 44% more tattoo parlours and piercing services, while the number of cafes, snack bars and tea rooms rose by 35%. Hair and beauty salons are up by a similar number (31%).

The hardest-hit have been book and map sellers which are losing the fight with global behemoth Amazon and have seen a 70% drop in stores. Better news has come in the shape of Toppings which has recently opened a book store in Edinburgh.

Toppings has opened a bookshop in Edinburgh (pic: Terry Murden)

There are 56% fewer computer shops, and even a 44% in second-hand shops, as well as a 41% decline in the number of art and antiques stores which have also switched to selling via the internet.

To keep up with the changing shape of the high street, department stores and fashion chains have begun offering salon services and coffee shops to try and entice shoppers, although new champagne bars were not enough to save Frasers.

Which? Magazine editor Harry Rose said: “While it’s concerning to have seen so many well-loved brands disappear from UK high streets in recent years, our research suggests the future of our town centres isn’t necessarily as bleak as the reports of store closures would have you believe.

“As shoppers needs and habits evolve, it’s vital that businesses keep up with these changing trends and consider how they can grow with them, in order to continue thriving on the high street.”

Edinburgh has experienced a resurgence of neighbourhood and farmers’ markets, including those in Stockbridge, Leith and Castle Terrace.

However, it is not all positive for independent chains, with the announcement yesterday that the Glasgow-based 10-store family business Watt Brothers is to close.

See also:

Is Stockbridge a model for our town centres?

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