Recent months have seen a slew of UK retailers including Thorntons, Mothercare, Comet, Dixons and announcing plans to abandon high street stores, often in favour of out-of-town retail parks.

It is all too easy to say that our high streets are doomed – but not every retailer is in exodus mode, and displaying commitment to the high street is gaining political significance.

Retailers who are expanded on the high streets tend to occupy one of two spending extremes – discount or luxury.

In more affluent areas, independent retailers are making headway, but the real volumes are at the discount end. Poundland, Poundstretcher and B&M Bargains are seeking hundreds of new stores.

There is also active demand from pawnbrokers, and BrightHouse – a modern day version of Radio Rentals which offers “rent to buy” deals on flatscreen TVs and Blackberries to the credit-impaired – is seeking 30 high street stores. But that’s not all.

This week, M&S chief Marc Bolland showed that he realises how important high street stores are to elderly shoppers.

The first big point he made in his address to 2,000 Middle Englanders at the retailer’s AGM this week was that M&S remains committed to the high street. “We have 219 store in the high street which are doing well, we are the anchor of the high street and we are going to invest in [upgrading] our stores,” he said to welcoming nods of approval from oldies.

You can imagine the political stink if M&S “did a Mothercare” and abandoned lesser towns, some of which would probably never recover.

Primark, which reported positive trading figures this week, also thinks the high street is the best place to trade from, and stands to swell its floorspace by 10% in the next year, taking giant stores in Edinburgh and London’s Oxford Street.

Granted, you’d struggle to describe the latter as a high street, but finance director John Bason tells me that the high street’s “higher footfall and convenience” is what guides the chain’s property strategy.

Sports Direct also reported positive numbers this week. It is in the process of revamping its high street estate, and has freshened up its image by snapping up designer high street chains USC and Cruise, into which it will sink £20m of fresh capital.

So the retailers are still spending money on the high street – let’s hope the shoppers follow suit.


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