THOSE seeking for a real-life exemplification of the challenges faced by the modern high street could do worse than look at Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street.

At one end, a host of bars, clubs and restaurants keep the night-time economy thriving. At the other end sits Buchanan Galleries, a covered mall that is home to John Lewis, one of the country’s most successful retailers.

In between is where the problem lies. The once thriving parade of shops looks old and tired, the retail mix clearly depleted. The loss of BHS in 2016 was a big blow to the area, followed last year by Greaves Sport and Dunnes. The recent devastating fire only adds to the feeling of decline.

And the latest national data on retail closures simply reinforces this gloomy picture. Last year Scots high streets lost a total of 148 stores, up from 112 the previous year, and the equivalent of five closures a week. Glasgow and Edinburgh experienced the biggest number of losses, followed by Aberdeen and Dundee, but no city was immune. Indeed, Scotland’s 4.48 per cent reduction in shops was the biggest in Britain.

Banks, convenience shops and travel agents took the biggest hit, with the PwC research suggesting that cafes, tearooms, restaurants and bars - the sort of independent spots we see cropping up in gentrified neighbourhoods - are on the increase.

So how should we try to make sense of the overall picture at a time when the service sector remains crucial to the whole Scottish economy? According to retail experts there are various reasons for the increase in high street closures, corresponding to a wider economic picture that continues to be both fragile and complex.

Internet retailers, particularly the likes of Amazon, continue to batter the high street by offering prices and deals that traditional stores simply cannot match. At the same time, consumer spending remains cautious, while the cost of employing staff is on the rise.

Speak to the retail sector in Scotland and they will tell you business rates continue to hurt them and stifle growth, especially since one of them - the so-called large businesses rates supplement - only applies north of the Border. Many also highlight the recent rise in employer contributions to workplace pensions as an extra expense that could push some over the edge.

Governments can tweak taxes and levies, but there is surely little they can do to reverse the inevitable trajectory of internet shopping. That doesn’t mean high street retailers can’t or shouldn’t try to fight back where they can, of course, especially when it comes to improving the experience for shoppers. As PwC points out, success on the high street these days is likely to depend on things such as how well retailers keep pace with customers’ needs by merging the experience of shopping online with their in-store offer.

Successful town centres are not just about shopping, of course. Indeed, bringing people into town with a strong offering of cultural events and entertainment is known to increase traffic to retailers. Closures, however, encourage a vicious circle of decline that can be hard to recover from.

That’s why these latest figures are so concerning. More stores and brands are likely to go under due to our changing shopping habits. But we will harm the fundamental fabric of life in our towns and cities if we allow our high streets to die. And that’s why retailers must work more closely with the town centres they inhabit to maximise and modernise the overall offering. Government should also consider new and innovative ways to help viable businesses start and grow.

Our high streets represent more than bricks and mortar; they are links to our past, present and future, and must be shepherded through these tough transitional times.