Mark Leftly: There's no need to read last rites for the high street – it will survive
Outlook A cliché sure to boil the ice-cold blood of many a City retail correspondent is that there are "only xx number of weeks/days/hours/minutes to save the high street".
The collapse of Republic, which attempted – but largely failed – to sell crop tops and T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like "Smashed it" and "Skank out" to 16-25-year-olds, only adds to the sense that the high street is on its death bed. To make matters worse, Blockbuster's administrator, Deloitte, confirmed plans to close an additional 164 of the DVD rental group's stores.
However, the priest never seems to come along and at last read the high street its last rites. Plenty of shops continue to trade well in our local centres after Jessops and HMV went into administration last month; the cores of La Senza and Peacocks still survive after their poisonous branches were lopped off in 2012; while Woolworths' empty stores have been filled by thriving pound shops.
One problem here is semantics. The high street as a whole isn't in peril; shops that have either failed their customers or been loaded up with too much debt under the pre-crisis model of ownership so beloved of buyout barons are the ones in trouble.
Shop chains and the high street are not synonymous, although the failure of even just a handful of the former does indeed blight the latter.
Certainly, job centres don't need another 2,500 people coming through their doors, as will be the case if none of Republic's stores survive. Already, 150 staff at Republic's head office have joined the dole queue.
When this interminable downturn does finally come to an end, there will again be many high streets bustling with all kinds of wares, from the frivolous to the functional. And, no doubt, some of those retailers will ride the boom years with duff, outdated or just plain unpopular products, only to collapse when the cycle turns downwards again.
Even if the high street isn't full of successful individual shops, there will be a shopping centre nearby with, perhaps, boutique stores built up around it. The high street will find a way to survive, though it is certainly fair to say that more impoverished areas will take far longer to return to good health.
Most importantly, a catch-all phrase like "high street" is particularly inappropriate in a sector with as many disparate competitors, of all sorts of geographic shapes and sizes, as retail.
It's not like civil aerospace, where we essentially just see Boeing and Airbus compete: the collapse of just one of those vast empires would, indeed, be a threat to the entire aircraft manufacturing industry.
But, branding is naturally powerful in retail, as we all grow up with these shops. So if one big name goes or is badly hurt, it feels like the entire high street is suffering. This feeling is only emphasised when we see so many people sadly lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
The difference between emotionally detached retail reporters and the rest of us is that they have written about so many failures in recent years that they know that, on the high street at least, there is no such thing as death by a thousand cuts.
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