STRAIGHT TALK: Spalding’s changing, not dying

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SPALDING going to the dogs?

I think it’s more realistic to describe it as Spalding going through a life-change.

Spalding and hundreds of other market towns up and down the country.

Think of Shepton Mallet, the Somerset town where action in the high street was so slow last summer it could be taken over for a reality TV show starring Spalding deli-chef Sergi.

That same show, Turn Back Time – the High Street, showed how people’s changing shopping needs in the 20th century put an end to some retail sectors and opened doors for others.

Our habits haven’t stopped changing and Spalding’s shopping scene, which impacts on all the other businesses in town and is crucial to people’s perceptions of the place, certainly isn’t near the bottom of a long slide towards the doghouse.

There’s actually more choice today than ten years ago, thanks to new shop units big and small added in Westlode Street, Swan Street, Winsover Road, London Road and of course at Springfields, the retail outlet centre which is good for us shoppers if not so welcome to other shops in the town centre.

All retailers are feeling the pinch right now like the rest of us in the face of rising prices, VAT increases and the clampdown on borrowing.

More than 10,000 retail companies were facing financial distress before Christmas – a 17 per cent increase on the previous quarter – and 10,000 shops are expected to close nationwide in 2011.

At the same time the rise of the big supermarkets is inexorable, with 32,000 jobs expected to be created this year by them opening hundreds of new stores.

Only last week Sainsbury’s and Tesco unveiled new-look stores in Bourne, greatly expanding what they offer there.

Asking around, I’d say Spalding is in good shape. Smaller shops here, apart from the former Curry’s which has failed to find a tenant thanks to a very expensive revamp, don’t stay empty long.

At the height of the recent recession there were roughly 20 out of the town’s 200 shops empty – that’s ten per cent.

Eight shops empty at a time has been an expected number in good trading conditions here.

Now compare Spalding’s ten per cent vacancy rate to the 20 to 30 per cent suffered in 24 towns the same size and larger. No contest!