There is now so much surplus space that finding alternative retail uses, especially for big-box formats, is nigh on impossible.

At the beginning of the 80s, Simon Bond’s book 101 Uses for a Dead Cat hit the shelves and was an almost instantaneous bestseller.

A rather more niche follow-up for the second decade of the 21st century might be 101 Uses for a Dead Shop and it is probable that finding that number might prove not just problematical, but nigh on impossible.

Any number of reports, conferences and ‘white papers’ litter the internet considering this subject, usually under the headline Reinventing the High Street, or something similar.

Yet the truth of the matter seems to be that the more these learned tracts are subject to close scrutiny, the less clarity there is on the topic.

Bigger is not better

The equally uncomfortable truth is that whether it’s B&Q, Tesco or BHS, the bigger the store, the less it is wanted.

A great deal of imagination has to be exercised to see ways in which a 150,000 sq ft store could be turned into something less than half the size, because that’s the task facing many big-box retailers, without creating something of an eyesore that few will enjoy looking at and even fewer will want to visit.

So here’s a perhaps throwaway, but nonetheless possible, solution to the problem faced by so many and confronted in reality by so few: Give up.

Yes, that’s right. Hand back the keys and walk away. If there really are too many shops, then any amount of subtle commercial massaging and pleading for business rate reductions is not going to deal with this very obvious problem.

And if the site is owned, then look at uses other than retail to which the resulting space might reasonably be turned.

The outcome would be better shops, because a reduced estate obviously equates to more money to spend on making the remainder look better and more welcoming.

“Thoroughfares comprised solely of charity shops, discounters and estate agents is probably little better than seeing them being boarded up.”

John Ryan, stores editor

Now before there are howls at this unthinking application of retail realpolitik consider this: Nobody sets out wanting to close shops and if it means there are towns where whole streets have to be devoted to alternative uses, then perhaps that’s the way it has to be.

In the long term, thoroughfares comprised solely of charity shops, discounters and estate agents is probably little better than seeing them being boarded up while time allows something different to evolve.

This is harsh, but for all the good that’s emerged from the plethora of documents purporting to deal with the topic, then maybe, just maybe, this might be the way to go.

Apologies for being so un-‘community’-minded and for not allowing a ‘journey’ to be pursued, that’s just the way it is sometimes.