Christmas diary of a shopkeeper: Patrick Hosking discovers that this has been a dismal December for Britain's deserted stores

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The Independent Online
Tuesday 1 December Crunch time for the retail trade: 23 1/2 shopping days until Christmas. Four till-jangling weeks to offset the other 11, dismal months of the year. IRA bombers are thwarted in London's West End, but the news can only deter seasonal shoppers. Among the drinks retailers, Threshers gets off to a cracking start on the publicity front with news of the Chancellor's little spree in Paddington. Rainy - too wet to shop.

Wednesday 2 Lego Group of Denmark shows a questionable confidence in the prospects for its toys, buying Windsor Safari Park. Great results from Granada Group show there is still money to be made renting out television sets - mainly by selling peripherals like subscriptions to movie channels. Floods - too wet to shop.

Thursday 3 Central Manchester shut down after IRA bombs injure 64. More than 26,000 job losses announced in a single day - hardly news to inspire a Christmas shopping blow-out.

Saturday 5 John Lewis reports an increase in sales momentum in its department stores.

Sunday 6 Almost every retail group opens in selected stores, including WH Smith, Burton, Dixons, Kingfisher, Boots. Only Marks & Spencer, C&A and John Lewis hold out. Among grocers, Kwik Save does U-turn and joins the Sunday openers.

Tuesday 8 Ford hopes to kick-start Christmas car sales by announcing price increases of up to pounds 2,000 in the new year.

Wednesday 9 High streets quiet: everyone staying in to watch the Royal split on telly. Boots the Chemist caves in over the price war in luxury perfumes - a key Christmas seller - slashing 25 per cent from 20 of its best-selling lines. The discounting illustrates every retailer's fear - that even if sales volumes hold up this year, margins will be shot to pieces.

Thursday 10 Some stores can hack it come rain or shine, Santa or no Santa: Great Universal Stores, the Burberry and Scotch House stores to mail order giant, reports a rise in interim pre-tax profits of pounds 195m - well on the way to its 47th year of unblemished earnings growth.

Friday 11 Croydon Council slams Sears and other retailers for renting out shops on very short leases to downmarket tenants who opportunistically cash in on seasonal demand. The row illustrates the dilemma for retailers with empty premises: this year most have chosen to fill them with opportunistic, but paying, tenants rather than see them broken into by illegal shop squatters.

Monday 14 The Threshers PR machine loses a wheel after the shop manager admits he lied.

Tuesday 15 Gloomy figures from the Confederation of British Industry - retail sales went backwards in November, it says, after three months of growth.

Wednesday 16 Government statistics on retail sales for once agree with the CBI: November, everyone is agreed, was poor. London's Oxford Street evacuated for several hours after two IRA bombs hit the John Lewis department store, injuring four.

European Court of Justice throws the Sunday trading hot potato back to the House of Lords, in theory enabling local councils to start clamping down again on illegal Sabbath traders.

Good news; Barclaycard says credit card spending is up 7.5 per cent in first two weeks. Spending on jewellery, alcohol and electrical goods higher than expected.

Better news; an American Express poll finds that nearly four in five respondents said they intended to spend the same or more on presents this year. Amber Day, one of the few retailers to break silence in December, tells shareholders at its annual meeting that like-for-like sales at its What Everyone Wants chain in the Christmas run-up are up on last year. Perfumes and computer games selling well; traditional toys like bicycles are moribund.

Thursday 17 Embarrassed BhS recalls thousands of mouldy Christmas puddings. Temperatures plunge - too cold to shop.

Friday 18 Raining again. Too wet to shop. One mainstream retail group privately admits it is going to be a lousy Christmas unless sales perk up in the final week. Wrekin District Council successfully wins a High Court undertaking from Safeway not to open its store in Newport, Shropshire, on Sundays from 27 December.

Saturday 19 Bomb scare closes much of Oxford Street again. Customer buying an espresso machine in the DH Evans department store at 11am told hers is the first money the electrical department has taken that day.

Sunday 20 Almost everyone opens, regardless of Wednesday's ruling from the European Court of Justice.

Monday 21 Market boom is pretty selective when it comes to retail shares. Argyll, owner of Safeway, hits a year's high, Pentos, the bookshop chain, hits a low.

Tuesday 22 Tube station bomb in Hampstead sends the roads of north-west London into gridlock just as the chattering classes were about to do their last-minute shopping.

Wednesday 23 Electronic games have been one of the few clear-cut successes this year. Now the tabloids claim that the Office of Fair Trading is to investigate Nintendo Gameboys and Sega Megadrives.

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