West Midlands one of highest in country for store closures but 'green shoots of recovery' emerging in Shropshire

High Street champions in Shropshire say it's vital to 'adapt and play to different strengths' to ensure a long-term future of town centres.

Sally Themans says there are positive signs for retail, with a number of new start ups across the Shropshire region
Sally Themans says there are positive signs for retail, with a number of new start ups across the Shropshire region

The number of retail store closures in the West Midlands in 2022 was among the highest in the country, according to new figures. Greater London and Yorkshire and Humber were the only areas with a worse closure rate.

But business chiefs insist there are 'green shoots of recovery' as data from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Local Data Company also highlighted the number of store closures in the region had fallen steeply from the previous year.

Figures showed there were 1,024 shop closures in the West Midlands last year with 596 new stores opening. As well as independent shops, national stores were impacted such as McColls, whose announced closures, while M&Co and Paperchase are the latest retailers to be hit. However, the number of closures was at its the lowest since 2018 – a drop from 1,676 retail shops shutting in the West Midlands in 2021.

And Sally Themans, of Love Wellington and Love Bridgnorth, who also supports new start-up businesses, said it was important to make retail shopping about 'interaction as well transaction' – finding other ways to get people into the centre to spend money.

And she is confident retail in fighting back, saying: "There is some optimism out there despite the challenges.

"When I started working on Love Wellington, the vacancy rate of properties on the High Street was 15 per cent and it's now 9 per cent.

"So there has been a real improvement since 2018 and a lot of hard work is being done get to premises open again.

"That's not to say there haven't been closures but, as one closes, there are other operators looking to come into Wellington.

"In Bridgnorth, there's a higher vacancy rate but there is money being spent to try and change things."

Sally also runs Good2Great coaching programmes and said that the number of businesses opening, including in retail was on the rise.

"We have had more than 200 businesses coming through our start-up programme in just 18 months," she said.

"We are seeing progress and the survival rate of those appear to be above the national average.

"We are working with new business in a lot of different sectors including a lot of them in retail such as Canvas in Clay in Ellesmere, The Little Green Pantry in Wellington, At Home Ludlow and The Bees Knees in Oswestry.

"There are a lot of new retail business coming through and people are more determined since the pandemic. There is a resilience."

The British Independent Retailers Association said that the key to the high street thriving is for there to be a diverse number of shops on offer for its visitors.

Chief executive Andrew Goodacre said it was encouraging to see that the number of closures was decreasing.

He said traditional retailers were being replaced by takeaways and amusement arcades.

And Adele Nightingale, from Oswestry BID, said: "It is very much about trying to make it an experience now.

"The High Street has changed forever, not just in Shropshire but across the country and so people come into a town for something for the experience, to meet friends, to see something different, to go to an independent shop. We have to adapt and play to those strengths in our market towns."

The West Midlands saw some parts of the high street thriving last year, with takeaways, convenience stores, DIY and pet stores bouncing back, helped by pandemic trends.

Retail parks across the country remain the most resilient outlet type with a small 0.3 per cent closure rate with shopping centres (down 1.6 per cent) also recovering at a promising rate.

Kevin Lockwood, centre manager of the Darwin Centre in Shrewsbury, said: "Retail has struggled, of course, but people are staying local more now and supporting businesses.

"We are currently getting some positive interest from retailers, be it national or local independents, to come into the centre. That's the same for Shrewsbury, as a whole, and not just the shopping centre.

"Generally, Shrewsbury footfall is good and retailers telling us trade is positive and as good as 2019. We have two empty units at present in the Darwin but, as I say, interest is strong in them."

Sarah Phillips, PwC Partner and consumer markets leader for the Midlands, said: “In the last few years, the region has seen some major retailers exit the high street.

"However, it’s not all doom and gloom as we’re seeing some green shoots appear, as the rate of store openings has doubled in line with store closures.

“It’s unfortunate that business failures are part of a working economy, due to factors like business model shifts, changes in technology and consumer habits. We’ve been through a long period of generally lower levels of closures, predominantly due to Government support and low interest rates.

"However, history shows us that in challenging times, we also see an increase in innovation and opportunities for new stores to thrive.

“There are challenges ahead with a potential recession and the cost of living crisis continuing, however we have seen how quickly the tide can change and there is positive growth for retail across GB, as more people return to work and offices, boosting the high street.”

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