THE evidence is entirely overwhelming - it's grim on the high street.

Last year, sales fell for the first time in 24 years. Job losses, restructuring, shop closures and weak consumer demand left 2019 with the inglorious title of worst year on record for retail.

Well, said 2020, hold my beer.

This week has seen some inordinately gloomy news for UK retailers. More than 6000 jobs were cut from the sector on Wednesday, bringing the total for the week to 10,000 with the Bank of England saying there is a risk the country will return to the high unemployment levels of the 1980s.

It's far from unexpected, given that online shopping could not nearly make up for the 12 week loss of real life purchasing, particularly not for food and beverage retailers, as seen by the job losses just announced by Upper Crust.

Even John Lewis has succumbed to the squeeze; sturdy, dependable John Lewis. It has announced it will not reopen all of its stores as lockdown eases. Harrods, too, is making jobs redundant.

No matter how you frame it, the high street is in crisis.

So surely the sight of early morning queues of people desperate to get their mitts on some goods is a good thing? As non-essential shops began to open on Monday we had the sight of lengthy queues snaking away from Primark store doors across the country.

It was an echo of the previous Monday when Ikea opened. Folk just can't get enough of that Swedish flatpack stuff.

Depending on which record of proceedings you read, there were shoppers lined up outside the low price clothing store from 4am or 5.30am. "Imagine," sneered social media, "Queueing up for Primark."

Primark is one of these odd things - like McDonald's or Nando's - that one must only enjoy ironically when one is in company. There was a long running joke of calling the clothes shop "Pradamark" as a means of getting away with owning anything from the brand.

Fast fashion is just as unhealthy as fast food, although in different ways, but it's not the ethics of it that people shy away from - it's just that it's cheap. Snobbery, I think, is the word I'm looking for.

Genuine excitement for the reopening of Primark is crass, and to be mocked, but come on - don't we all have our little missed fripperies that we'd queue for? If you're reading this over breakfast on Friday morning, I'll be in the queue for the local recycling centre and I have no shame in telling you I have a physical thrill thinking of it.

Of course, not everyone dashing out to Primark will be going for this season's lounge wear or a new party frock. Children have a terrible habit of growing, and plenty of people, furloughed, unemployed, having taken a pay cut, will be there for essentials.

While we're pointing fingers, I noticed on Tuesday a queue outside Farrow and Ball on Glasgow's Great Western Road, but no one was mocking that on social media. It's quite beautifully west end, though, as west end as the annual queue outside IJ Mellis cheesemonger in the run up to Christmas.

It seems ludicrous to be slagging folk for getting their wallets out when exactly what the high street needs, what our economy needs, is for those who have money to spend it.

We're at an interesting phase in the lockdown easing where people are encouraged to start - safely, socially distanced and in masks - getting back to a bit of pre-covid normalcy. I would normally cycle into Glasgow city centre but had to take the car this week.

It was just shy of 10am and there was nowhere to park on the street. Single yellow lines were nose-to-tail with vehicles, all with warning leaflets about inappropriate parking tucked under their windscreen wipers.

Edinburgh City Council has already reintroduced its on-street parking charges, suspended during lockdown to allow key workers to commute as public transport was severely reduced. Glasgow City Council has not yet reintroduced parking charges but plans to announce the reintroduction of fees are expected imminently.

Public transport, though, is still reduced and, where there are services runnings, not everyone will be confident enough yet to hop on a bus or train. While towns and cities are making strides in creating space for distancing with the introduction of new cycle routes, biking to the shops is next-level stuff for your novice cyclist.

It's been heartening to see the increase in people taking up cycling and becoming more confident on our quieter roads but now traffic is increasing to close to pre-pandemic levels it will be a test of how many keep on cycling. Those who are comfortable travelling by bike to the city centre may not be, say, equipped with panniers or confident enough carrying shopping.

This, as we've seen in non-pandemic times, further encourages people to out of town malls where they can park freely and easily.

A recent YouGov poll found that only nine per cent of the population wants a return to pre-coronavirus "normal". This includes how we design and use our high streets. Despite disparaging comments about those desperate to get back to the shops, we need people to keep purchasing, to be keen to spend.

How they do that, though, looks set to radically alter. Cities are, rightly, making car travel less attractive but, until public transport levels are increased, it makes it difficult for people to hit the shops. It seems more likely that radical reinvention of how we use our high streets and why is the way forward.

Social distancing is going to create challenges for a model largely dependent on high footfall.

The Scottish Government has convened a group to adapt its 2013 Town Centre Action Plan for a post-covid country, no mean feat when incorporating environmental concerns, wellbeing, public health as well as the viability of businesses.

There has long been talk of transforming town centres into spaces for social enterprises, increasing residential properties, encouraging local goods and services. It's hard to look at positives when the job loss figures are so bleak but there must be ways of making the high street flourish - and work for all socio-economic backgrounds.

We should be, if you will, queueing up to make that happen.

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