High street health check: How has Northampton town centre changed in 2020?
It has been a long and difficult year for businesses across the UK - and the impact of that can be seen as clearly in Northampton as anywhere else.
The borough's high street scene has been rocked by the events of 2020, and while there were still some openings and a few savvy relocations, the toll of closures makes for grim reading.
As part of its annual high street health check, the Chronicle & Echo counted as many shops and businesses in Northampton's town centre that either opened, relocated, or closed for good this year
The count was completed by using the appearance of the premises in town centre, its status on Google and where possible contacting the owner.
At time of writing, the Chron estimates that during 2020, the high street welcomed 10 new businesses - and said goodbye to as many as 26. Read a full list of these businesses below.
It comes after a year that saw business owners pitted against two national lockdowns, and an even greater swing than ever in the way people shop towards home delivery and click-and-collect.
Despite the rolling out of Covid-19 business relief grants of up to £50,000 to help shops stay afloat, it was unquestionably a difficult year like no other.
It reflects the impact on national retailers, which in Northampton has spelled the end for Debenhams in the Drapery. Even in the closing days of 2020, suit retailers Moss Bros shut its store on Abington Street for good on December 22.
It also marked a year of relocation. Zone Beauty and the BIAS gift shop both vacated Northampton's troubled Market Walk shopping centre to move to the Drapery and Market Walk respectfully, which filled two high profile spots on the high street.
But in the same vein, WHSmith relocated into the smaller unit on the ground floor of Grosvenor, with River Island from Abington Street taking its place. Even then, the empty unit in Abington Street will soon be taken by Tesco which is relocating from further along the high street in 2021 - but the net result will be another large, vacant unit on Abington Street.
Meanwhile, it has been an especially tough year for Market Walk. The former Peacock Place has been trouble for several years now and has been the subject of several unsuccessful planning proposals. Now, the centre has reached the New Year with just three stores left open.It comes ahead of what the borough council hopes will be a jump start for the town. Last week, the local authority submitted its bid for a £12.5m share of the Government's £830m Town Fund, and has already been provisionally awarded £8.4m - subject to 'further work' on their application.
The plans for this money include a redevelopment of Market Square to create a "hub" for the town with a water feature, seating and new stalls for traders.
Meanwhile there are a number of complicated planning applications for flats and apartments underway in the town alongside proposals by the council. These include turning some of the town's biggest and long-empty retail units - such as BHS and Marks and Spencer - into accommodation, and the plan to turn the Belgrave House offices into worker flats.But there is still much to be done before these plans come to fruition, and many readers and letter writers this year have told the Chron they resist the new trend of creating living space in town centres in place of shops.
2021 is set to be a year of either new beginnings or continuing stress.
Northampton town centre shops and businesses that opened in 2020
■ Macelarie Butchers, Abington Street
■ Electronix Hub, Abington Street
■ Staffing Match, Abington Street
■ Old Savoy Theatre, Abington Square
■ Untitled shop at top of Abington Street, opposite BBC Northampton - reopened after fire in 2019
■ Leafy House plant shop, Grosvenor Centre
■ Snappy Pizza, Gold Street
■ Illuminati's nightclub, Bridge Street
■ Geek Retreat, Dychurch Lane
■ Esquires Coffee, Fish Lane
Northampton town centre shops and businesses that relocated within the town in 2020
■ River Island, from Abington Street to Grosvenor Centre
■ WHSMith - remains in Grosvenor Centre in a smaller unit
■ BIAS gift store, from Market Walk into Grosvenor Centre
■ Zone Beauty, from Market Walk to The Drapery
■ Stonhills Estate Agents, from Bridge Street to St Giles Street
Northampton town centre shops and businesses that shut in 2020
■ Edinburgh Woolen Mill, Abington Street
■ British Heart Foundation charity shop, Abington Street
■ Marie Curie charity shop, Abington Street
■ Thomas Cook, Abington Street
■ St Giles Cafe, Abington Street
■ Clintons cards, Abington Street
■ Virgin Media, Abington Street
■ Cafe Nero, Abington Street
■ Home Discount, Abington Street
■ Moss Bros suit retailers, Abington Street
■ Wargames Workshop, Abington Square
■ Freestylers hair salon, Wellington Street
■ ElectroMist vape shop, Market Square
■ Diecast & More, Market Walk
■ Cynthia Spencer Hospice charity shop, Market Walk
■ Rendezvous cafe, Market Walk
■ Bohemian Finds dress shop, Market Walk (relocated out of town centre to Vintage Retreat, Spring Boroughs)
■ King Billy Rock Bar, Bridge Street
■ Buddies USA, Dychurch Lane
■ St Giles Street Art Gallery
■ Bread and Butter Factory, St Giles Street
■ Gin & Temple gin bar, St Giles Street
■ Save The Children charity shop
Notable mentions or upcoming changes
■ Debenhams, The Drapery - closure announced for 2021
■ Bonmarche (set to shut in new year), Abington Street
■ Tesco Metro, Abington Street - relocation further up Abington Street set for 2021 into former River Island
■ Shipmans Pub, The Drapery - renovations underway, opening date unconfirmed
■ Sainsburys, Grosvenor Centre - closure announced for 2021