Almost one chain store closes every hour – but what about independents?

But it's through the eery absences on your local high street, and the loss of jobs in your local area, that most of you will have really felt the impact of retail closures.

Today we learn that Britain's high streets lost almost one shop belonging to a chain every hour in 2012, according to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Local Data Company - on average 20 stores belonging to major retailers closed each day in 2012. In total, more than 7,300 chain stores closed in 2012.

And the net number of closures is a worrying tenfold higher than in 2011. In 2012, 1,779 more stores closed than opened, compared with 174 in 2011. PwC is expecting the number of closures to grow in 2013.

What do these figures mean for small independent retailers? Independents have been closing at an even faster rate, but more are opening than closing. Research from the Local Data Company from 2012 showed that in the first six months of last year there was a net gain of 852 independent stores in the UK (a pro rata gain of 1,904 in 2012). Although 8,181 closed in the first six months of 2012, some 8,181 opened.

The net gain might not sound huge, but it's significantly better than the net loss of independent stores of 5,500 in 2009 (from 10,667 closures against 5,204 openings). Overall, independent stores have been gradually faring better over the last few years. There was still a net loss of 2,300 independents in 2010, but 2011 saw an encouraging gain of 2,564 UK shops.

While the first half of 2012 showed a slower pace of growth in the net gain of independents, things were still moving in the right direction for independents.

Will 2013 see another net gain in the number of independents, or will they be dragged in the same direction as the bigger chains?

The fragile ecosystem of large and small retailers on any high street makes it hard to tell.

We're all too aware that a new super-chain outlet or supermarket on a high street can suck custom away from long-standing local shops. But big chains can also, conversely, provide a halo effect for independents. Customers shop within their town centres rather than driving to large out-of-town shopping destinations. Look at it this way: if you were able to get your new party dress from your local high street rather than having to drive 20 minutes out of town to the mall, you're more likely to nip next door to the butchers and greengrocers next to the new TopShop in town for your lunch than bother driving to the out-of-town Tesco you would have done before, aren't you?

On the flip side, when big chains start dominating a high street, they can push rents up and make the high street unaffordable for independents, and risk luring independents' customers away too.

Trying to establish where the line lies between big chains being beneficial or destructive to their independent neighbours on the high streets is a puzzle as yet unsolved by town planners and economists.

But there is something you can do to help independent shops survive - and it's very simple. Read our six reasons why it's better to buy local, then make the effort to do so.

Whether you're a small retailer yourself or not, we hope you value the character and value independent shops add to your local high street, and the fact that buying from them keeps much more money in your local area. Research from the Centre for Local and Economic Strategies shows that for every pound you spend with in your local economy, 50p-70p stays in the local economy - compared with just 5p if you shop out of town.

A desolate high street is a sad sight. It is all of our responsibility to bring our high streets back to life.

And if that's not reason enough to buy local, then rest assured that the independent butcher on your high street won't be slipping any horse into their beef-burgers.

Image: Gwydion M. Williams

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