The British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) has said that recent news about WHSmith and Boots closing stores has prompted discussions about the challenges faced by retailers in today’s market.Bira, which works with over 6,000 independent businesses of all sizes across the UK commented on news that Boots plans to close 300 stores while WHSmith has decided to shift its focus away from the high street and concentrate on airports and non-high street locations. Andrew Goodacre, CEO of Bira said that while the strategic move makes sense for these companies, it also raises an important question about the future of retail on the high street. “The decisions made by Boots and WHSmith reflect the increasing difficulties and costs associated with operating physical stores. While some retailers have struggled due to mismanagement or economic conditions, these closures demonstrate that running a shop on the high street is becoming more expensive and challenging. “The rising costs of maintaining a physical store, coupled with declining consumer expenditure and profit margins, present significant obstacles for retailers. If no action is taken to address this situation, it is likely that more large chains will make similar announcements in the future.” Goodacre added that this would also lead to opportunities that these closures would present for independent retailers. “Vacant shop premises provide a window of opportunity for independent businesses with different business models. While running a shop is not without its financial challenges, independent retailers do not have to contend with group overheads. This gives them a better chance to make the high street work for them.” “Large chains are not leaving the high street because the shops are in poor locations or have no customers, and this suggests opportunity for new independent businesses. Bira believe that government and local authorities should proactively encourage the smaller business to invest in these premises to save the high streets. “Funding is being made available through various initiatives, and this should be used to encourage new retailer businesses to occupy these sites. The government can play a role by ensuring that business rates relief is increased and the retail discount is 100% in the first year of the new business starting. Better still would be the removal of all business rates for retail units below £100K RV,” he added.