This week the Herald is launching a campaign to spread a little love in Aylesbury’s High Street and town centre.
Traditional local shopping centres are changing, small retailers face rising business rates and rents, while high parking charges, poor infrastructure and the loss of vital banking services have added to their woes.
At the same time a number of well-known chains and department stores have closed swathes of high street stores, with more than 50,000 retail jobs going or gone from big stores this year alone.
Small shops are in the thick of this. There are twice as many independent high street businesses as chain stores. They are vital to the health of our town centres.
While there are thousands of small businesses still literally setting up shop - on our high streets and online - across the UK, many others are finding it difficult to stay in business.
There is no quick fix - and longer term we need to reimagine and repurpose our local shopping areas so they can be less than about just shopping and more a place for leisure and experience and community.
But today the Herald - along with sister newspapers across Johnston Press - launches our Love Your High Street campaign with the aim of focusing more attention on what can be done now to support our small shops and businesses.
Poonam Gupta, who runs Holy Cow Home, based in Cambridge Street, Aylesbury, said: “More than ever before it is important to shop locally whether in the store or online - whichever method you choose, do it locally. The benefits are huge, including saving in fuel and packaging.
“Local businesses are key to the local community, as more than ever before there is a need to ensure community spirit, customer loyalty is key to the high street, the high street is the hub of any community. It is wise to care for it, ensuring that where we choose to live stays vibrant and exciting.
“Everyone enjoys the convenience of using the internet to meet their shopping needs. But, as consumer spending starts rising in the run up to Christmas, we are encouraging all readers to make a conscious decision to shop locally and spend some time and money with the shops, small businesses and independent traders who ensure our communities remain vibrant places to live.
“Between now and the end of the year we will be helping to spread the word by supporting the local initiatives and great independent retailers we have on our patches in a series of regular features.
“But more fundamental change is needed - so Love Your High Streets is also about calling for more direct action.
“We are backing the Federation of Small Businesses in their calls for both central and local government to lessen the pressure on small firms struggling to keep their heads above water.
Backing the launch of our Love Your High Street initiative, Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman said: “It’s great to see this campaign adding to the call for action to help our high streets.
“With confidence among small retailers falling, this is a crucial time to ramp up pressure for urgent reform of outdated business rates and simplifying the way bills can be appealed, as well as improving local roads and increasing the amount of free parking.
“Government and local authorities must come together now to find real solutions to these issues.”
In 2013 then Communities Secretary Eric Pickles unveiled a ‘billion pound package’ of measures to support our local shops.
It was claimed these steps - which included business rates support, town centre tax breaks, relaxation of planning rules and parking reform - would make it easier for all the shops on Britain’s high streets to grow, expand and take people on.
Michael Weedon, chairman of the FSB’s retail and High Street policy unit said: “Small business owners are resilient and are always having to adapt.
“But we want to see the Government and local authorities come together to look at real solutions to these issues so that our high streets are not only able to survive but to thrive.”