Page last updated at 08:39 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 09:39 UK

Battling on amid boarded-up shops

Boarded up shops in Derby

By Leo Kelion
Business reporter, BBC News, Derby

The sign on the street corner sums up the problem: "The Lanes - Derby's hidden gems".

Music Man owner Steve Frost
We're a little island here amongst all the shops advertised to let. The situation is really dire
Steve Frost, owner Music Man

The sheer number of boarded-up, shuttered and gated properties obscure the few that are still trading.

Some of the businesses say they are still able to make a living, but the owner of the Music Man store Steve Frost readily admits he is struggling.

His DJ equipment and guitar shop is running at a loss and he has had to lay off a member of staff.

He recently had a day when he failed to make a single sale - the first time that has happened since the early days of the business back in 1998.

"We're a little island here amongst all the shops advertised to let," he says.

"The footfall has fallen off by about 80% which has hit trade. The situation really is dire. How long we can survive I don't know."

Relocation relocation relocation

The recession is not the only factor affecting business.

Developers Westfield opened a massive extension to the city's main shopping centre at the end of 2007.

Shops to let in Derby
Margate: 25%
Derby: 22%
Croydon: 15.4%
Central London: 12.8%

Many of Derby's big name retailers relocated to the development including Debenhams and Marks & Spencer, and when the downturn began something had to give.

Inside the centre it is noticeably busier than on the surrounding streets.

However even it hasn't escaped the effects of the slowdown. Around 10% of its units remain unlet.

Yet local commercial property agent Ben Wisher of Rigby & Co defends the decision to create all the extra floor space.

"[At the] end of 2007 a lot of new retail development came forward and it was only shortly after that that the full might of the credit crunch kicked in," Mr Wisher says.

"It was very unfortunate timing. Derby needed this development, it needed the investment.

"Fingers crossed we are starting to see some real improvement in recent months and Derby is now coming out of recession."

Big name casualties

It is a message the public-private body Marketing Derby is keen to reinforce.

Its director John Forkin notes that unemployment fell in Derby last month, bucking the national trend.

And there are areas of the city, such as the Cathedral Quarter, where new shops are opening and succeeding despite the difficult climate.

But back in the city centre it does feel like the shop fascias are fighting for attention against the multitude of property for sale or let signs.

There are rows of big name casualties including Zavvi and Bay Trading sitting empty on Albion Street, while on the once-trendy Sadler Gate several of the smaller independents are holding closing down sales if they have not already folded.

For a population of around 235,000 the feeling is there are an awful lot of shops, which made it and its retailers more vulnerable once recession struck.

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