More than 1,000 market towns throughout Britain face an uncertain future due to a shift in modern lifestyles, new research concludes today.
Businesses should not take the loyalty of local customers for granted, a Newcastle University study said.
It found more people were prepared to use out-of-town shops or the internet, leaving local traders out of pocket.
The research concluded that small towns needed to focus on providing good food to ensure their survival.
The research focused on the small Northumberland town of Alnwick, which was named Britain's best place to live in 2002 by Country Life magazine.
But the university study, which was published in The Journal of Rural Studies, found that modern trends were leaving Alnwick and similar towns facing a major threat to their economic future.
Business is down as rural people turn increasingly to online shopping or out-of-town centres.
And the study found that was compounded by a growing commuter workforce who were more prepared to leave the area for shopping and entertainment.
The researchers said market towns had to "get back to basics" to fight the shift in lifestyles.
If there were good food shops available, more people would come into the towns and other businesses would benefit and having a cinema or theatre in the town was also important.
Dr Neil Powe, the lead researcher, said: "If the mutually independent relationship between Alnwick and its hinterland residents is to continue, measures to maintain existing trade as well as clawing back lost trade are needed.
"The results of the survey suggest that providing improved food shopping services will encourage more people to use Alnwick and that may increase the patronage of other services.
"The town needs to try harder to encourage a feeling of loyalty and belonging, particularly among commuters, and introducing something like a loyalty card for shoppers may be one solution."Reuse content