THIS week a rare opportunity to watch television saw me glued to a programme presented by the self-styled “Queen of Shops” Mary Portas. Focusing on the death of that great British institution the High Street, Portas probed the decline of traditional retailers and voiced her fears for the future of our nation of shopkeepers and shopaholics.<br /><br />The message was clear: if we don’t support our high streets by buying local then they will wither and die.<br /><br />The loss of major chain stores such as Marks & Spencer and Woolworths in places like Tewkesbury and Dunstable has seen smaller, independently-owned neighbours suffer as shopper footfall dries up.<br /><br />But what the show didn’t dwell on was that the all too familiar poor standard of the local shopping experience is the major reason why residents refuse to buy from local businesses.<br /><br />During the past decade, when times were good, too many shops managed to survive because consumers had money to burn.<br /><br />Respected retail analyst Richard Hyman says this golden period of consumer expenditure masked some of the high street’s problems.<br /><br />Most of the stores that have failed did so because they thought the good times would never end. In contrast, the survivors are those that maintain the excitement that comes with the truly enjoyable retail experience.<br /><br />One shocking statistic Portas unearthed was that 100 shops are closing every day around the UK. She also revealed that in Tewkesbury a mere 11 per cent of residents shop on its high street. Portas didn’t go on to say where the remaining 89 per cent splash their hard-earned cash, but it is a fair bet that many of them go to nearby branches of Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s instead.<br /><br />Local shopkeepers undoubtedly find it tough to compete against the large out-of-town retailers, which offer everything from apples and pears to children’s clothes, bestselling paperbacks to flat-screen TVs.<br /><br />But the supermarkets cannot be blamed for all of the high street’s woes. It is a fact of life for independent retailers – and therefore the vitality of our high streets – that in bad times shoppers want bargains and will only spend more money if they get a pleasant shopping experience.<br /><br />Sadly many British high streets can’t compete with the purchasing power of the major chains. As for the “experience”, smaller stores can do more to offer the kind of joyous retail therapy found mostly in city centres.<br /><br />A womenswear store in my home town was recently named as one of the best shops in the county and is known locally for its cutting-edge approach to retailing. But such experience does come with a price.<br /><br />There is always a place for a decent butchers, bakers or fishmongers on every high street but it is a classic symptom of recession that sees the best stores survive while the poorest are condemned to the retail graveyard.