Feb. 21 - As confidence returns to Europe, there is some optimism among retailers. In the UK, despite disappointing January retail sales, the number of vacant shops on the high street has fallen to its lowest level in four years. Sales at European retailers like Carrefour have also risen. But as Hayley Platt reports, the recovery is still fragile.
It's been a cold damp winter. But Britain's retail climate is showing signs of improving. New figures reveal the number of empty shops on the high street has fallen to its lowest level in four years. Matthew Hopkinson is from the Local Data Company. SOUNDBITE: Matthew Hopkinson, The Local Data company, saying (English): "I think the interesting thing is, they're being reoccupied rather than being removed from the stock or to alternative uses. So there seems to be, dare I say green shoots coming back to the high street but it's not every high street, it's primarily in London and the south." This London suburb is one high street that's suffered its fair share of closures. Last year Loughton had around 14 empty shops. That figure now stands at under ten. Becky Elliott owns Bababoom, the town's baby and nursery retailer. SOUNDBITE: Becky Elliott, owner of Bababoom and chair "You have that feeling in the pit of your stomach that if they've gone and they've been here for ex amount of years how long is it going to be before we're going to face troubles but luckily things have definitely improved." But analysts warn that Britain's economy is still fragile. The latest UK retail sales figures for January fell 1.5 percent, slightly more than expected. That followed December's figures which had their strongest annual growth in almost three years. There's also been some improvement in other parts of Europe. French supermarket chain Carrefour has reported its first sales rise in Spain since the financial crisis of 2008. And UK electrical retailer Dixons is showing a modest recovery of three percent in its Greek business. SOUNDBITE: Matthew Hopkinson, The Local Data company, saying (English): "I think that France has a number of issues as does Italy and probably Germany is the next strongest to come back online but they don't have such a strong online history as the UK does." Loughton has said goodbye to a number of chains over the years. But new ones are moving in. That's good news for this generation of shoppers - and the next.