Two sobering reports landed in my inbox at the end of last month. According to The Local Data Company, while the number of independent shops nudged up in 2012, during the second half slightly more closed down than opened - the first time this has happened for two years.
, though, had it far, far worse. Closures by chains in 2012 were up more than tenfold over 2011, driving their numbers down by a net 2.7%. And although indies pushed their presence up by 0.55% over the year, the trend isn't encouraging.
The figures pile on the agony for embattled bricks-and-mortar retailers and high streets. And for all those multiple retailers we've seen forced out of business the report goes on to add insult to injury by listing the types of chains that are now picking up the slack.
Telling you everything you need to know about the state of the economy, the top five most-opened multiple outlets last year were cheque cashing/payday loan stores, pound shops, pawnbrokers, charity shops and (when things are this bad, what have you got to lose?) betting shops.
The list of top openings by independents tells an equally powerful story, albeit a very different one. Here barbers and nail salons top the list, with beauty salons, hairdressers and tattooing and piercing salons all up there too.
Now, assuming that all these retailers have done their research and find a ready market for their services, look at the two lists together. What emerges is a picture of a nation of financially-challenged consumers - but consumers who are nevertheless willing to spend a little on something for no better reason than that it makes them feel good. And those independents are investing in store openings because of another crucially important factor: no one's yet worked out how to give you a cut and blow dry or punch a hole in your eyebrow online.
Add to that the fact that the internet can't ever replicate the experience of going into a really engaging and inspiring shop, and maybe the wider retail industry can yet find a way to breathe new life into the embattled high street.