More stores opened than closed as 2016 drew to an end, although seasonal operators and festive pop-up shops may have accounted for some of the late gains.
However, the ”non-food finished goods” category, which includes fashion, was the only one to show declines over the year, research from the Local Data Company (LDC) shows. Convenience food showed subdued growth, while leisure and services both rose strongly.
Multiples continued to withdraw from high streets while independents opened and closed more regularly, yet the total net gain was just 207 stores from more than 17,000 which opened and closed during the 12-month period.
More than 21,000 shops opened for the first time during 2016 in the sample towns tracked by LDC, which is slightly more than that shut for good.
The retail vacancy rate fell to its lowest peak since 2010 in December, reaching 12.2%, while the leisure vacancy rate hit a new high of 8.2%.
LDC sales and marketing director Matthew Hopkinson said the figures highlighted the great deal of life there is on high streets, yet also the amount of retail ”death”.
“More than one in 10 shop units changed occupant last year,” he said.
The occupancy rate slumped last summer but recovered in autumn, closing the year with the vacancy rate beginning to fall again.
Hopkinson said: “The news at the end of the year was better than at the halfway stage even though the curves were heading downward. In a year which will see Brexit triggered, business rate hikes for some shops and rising input cost pressures, the balance between these two facts of commercial life, births and deaths, will determine outcomes on the high street.
“This will have much to do with how confident businesses feel in the face of uncertainty,” he added.