At the very start of 2009, I askedmy readers which High Street stores they thought might not see out the year. This was at the start of the recession, during the death throes of the mighty Woolworths, at which point it felt like no chain was safe. It's now the end of 2018, one tempestuous decade later, and I thought I'd see how we fared.
My readers were duly pessimistic, and came up with the following 30 stores that might not be long for this world. I ordered their suggestions with the biggest names at the top and smaller fry at the bottom. I've now updated that list with the dates that companies did actually fall into administration (and removed a few links which no longer work).
Five out of 30 no longer trade. I'd say that's impressively few, or maybe we were just bad at predicting the most vulnerable stores. Well done to Henry, Red Dalek, Lyle, Embo and, er, me.
First to tumble was booksellers Borders in November 2009. Books were first up against the wall in the digital economy, assaulted by e-readers and online retail, and yet Waterstones has managed to survive and still has over 250 shops. 2012 saw the end of JJB Sports, engulfed within the Sports Direct empire, and of electrical retailers Comet. Blockbuster fell at the start of 2013 and few were surprised, indeed the market for on-demand digital films has since proved unstoppable. And BHS was the biggest casualty of all in 2016, downed by High Street inertia and a succession of greedy thieving bosses. But that's the lot.
Six other stores in the list entered administration but didn't die. Oddbins stumbled in 2011 and were bought out by the European Food Broker group, their high street presence now greatly reduced (and mostly London-based). Blacks slipped briefly into administration later that year purely as a means to allow JD Sports to buy them out. In January 2012 Peacocks went under but was bought out by Edinburgh Woollen Mill, then Clinton Cards defaulted in May becoming Clintons in the associated buyout. HMV and Jessops both called in the administrators in January 2013 - a brutal month. HMV was bought out by restructuring company Hilco, and Jessops by TV Dragon Peter Jones, trading today as Jessops Europe Limited. Entering administration isn't always the end.
The other 19 stores on the list have avoided administration, although some have come close. Homebase had a terrible time after it was sold to Australian DIY chain Bunnings and was eventually unloaded for £1. Blue Inc placed one of its subsidiaries into administration in 2016, and is reported to be on the verge of collapse at present. Mothercare closed 50 of its stores earlier this year to stave off financial woes. Debenhams are also desperately slimming down, which makes the new store they opened in Watford last month somewhat inexplicable.
Then there are the companies which collapsed but which my readers didn't predict, however obvious their plight looks now. Nobody picked Maplin, the electrical bazaar which ceased operations this summer, nor Toys R Us which went under in the spring. House of Fraser really ought to have been included, even though they haven't downsized to their doom just yet, but who would have guessed that Poundworld would go first?
Our high street retailers have actually been quite resilient over the last decade, even if they have had to slim down and cut back to survive. The next ten years may not be so benign, indeed one bad Christmas could be enough to tip one or more well known names out ofexistence. You may not miss them, as you sit and wait for yet another gift delivery to arrive, but their customers and staff will. And I wonder who'll go next...