Town centres around the country are loosing both footfall and national retailers.
North East Towns have seen a recent decline in big shops which are either closing down selected stores or are going into administration.
Mothercare, Mama and papas, Thomas Cook, ToysRus and Homebase are a few of the stores which have left the high streets.
Since 2015 the amount of store closures has shot up by 10.3% so far. It will be no surprise to see this rise further by the end of this year.
The amount of stores closing down is a growing concern for both councils and residents of small towns in the North East Region.
Not having money spent in a town can have a snowball effect to the specific area on a larger scale.
Small maintenance jobs start being neglected in and around towns, resulting in towns looking uninviting.
In recent years it is clear to see a complete new mindset around shopping has taken over.
The younger generation are fast paced and completely orientated with technology and increasingly look to the internet for their shopping habits.
This arguably could be the root cause for the decline in town centres and stores closing down.
Globally this has decreased footfall in town centres:
Darlington, like a lot of other towns in the region, has seen it’s centre affected by store closures.
Here is a video showing a selected few empty units in Darlington Town Centre.
A recent Tuxtra survey shows that 51% of people agree that town centres are dying.
One respondent said: “I think town centres are struggling a lot more than city centres, as there are less attractions and other things to do, which would draw people in who may be more likely to buy items from the shops.”
“Apart from the lead up to Christmas, town centres are now especially suffering because of many retailers closing stores in town centres, where they are least successful.”
Although another respondent said: “Even though shopping online is easier it’s still nice to go shopping with your friends and being able to try on and see what you’re buying before you do.”
Darlington is one of many towns in the North East facing problems.
Empty units are populating the town centre and it’s becoming harder to fill them up for various reasons.
Driving footfall in Darlington is priority as well as filling up empty units.
This together could eventually make the town centre boom again.
Part of the town centre is populated with a lot of independent businesses and surprisingly the independent stores keep coming.
These businesses have come together with an initiative to create attention on Darlington.
The Imperial Quarter of the town sees various businesses working together identifying and rectifying problems.
The Orb, a Micropub in Darlington, is a part of this initiative.
Owner of the Orb, Ian, said: “We started a group together about 18 months ago, to try and look at improving this area of Darlington to try and attract new businesses and footfall of customers.”
“We needed to do something before it got worse. Looking at how we could improve the area through improving publicity and the appearances as well”
The Imperial Quarter has a range of cafes, restaurants, bars and clothes shops.
Ian said: “We have looked at extended hours and events.”
“As with online shopping its 24/7 but shops are very much 9-5 so we are trying to encourage some of the retailers particularly to open later to allow people who are working 9 -5 to visit the quarter on a night time.
“We had late night shopping on a Thursday last Christmas, it worked quite well and it also improved on the customer footfall in the pubs and restaurants too.”
Additionally to recognise and reward businesses’ in Darlington an award ceremony takes place annually.
‘Town Centre Business Awards’ – where you can nominate yourself and other businesses.
Beryl Hankin was the winner of Best Independent and Specialist Retailer Award.
She said: “I’d love everyone to get involved as the businesses here in Darlington are supportive of each other and getting together once a year to get dressed up and enjoy ourselves would be great for morale.”
Beryl is one of the owners of Guru Boutique which is also part of The Imperial Quarter, the shop has been open since 1972.
Beryl said: “I’d like to think that 20 years from now our town centre has retained its identity, looks clean and attractive and still has a mix of national and independent businesses plus more office workers and residents based in town to boost the footfall.”
Showing appreciation as a town for the independent businesses shows a sense of community which is obviously inviting for future retailers.
Town centres need to provide a hands on experience, something which replaces the convenient few clicks to order online.
Darlington Councillor Heather Scott, said: “We’ve got a plan to rejuvenate Darlington Town Centre.”
“What we are trying to do is encourage more individual businesses to come in to the town to bring more people in to the town to live.
“So empty shops at the moment if we can take over responsibility for them we will encourage the upper floors to become residential apartments.
“It’s about encouraging the evening offer too, lots of bars and restaurants are opening up and people are changing their habits and I think more people are going out to eat these days.”
To move and improve town centres for the future its important to adapt to the changes of the future generation.
Most of all keep town centres inviting and attractive to the outsiders looking in.
Make sure to have a look around your town centre, support the local businesses and hope to find some hidden treasures beyond your phone screen.
Here is Darlington Town Centre talking about the issues and how they plan to overcome them: