City centre, desertification emergency. Between 2012 and 2023, 111,000 retail stores closed

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It is a heavy toll for commerce which between 2012 and 2023 lost over 111 thousand retail stores, of which 31 thousand during the recent crisis. The situation of street trading is also difficult, with 24 thousand businesses ceasing. Two factors that contribute to the desertification of urban centers and the reduction in the decline in services to citizens. At the same time, there was an increase of 9,800 accommodation and restaurant businesses, a sector which is evolving from an entrepreneurial point of view. In fact, among trade, accommodation and catering, there was a decline (-8.4%) in Italian activities while foreign ones saw a +30%. A similar dynamic is recorded on the employment front because half of the employees in the entire economy (over 242 thousand employed) employed in these sectors are foreigners. These are the main results of the analysis «Business demography in Italian cities», carried out by the Confcommercio Research Office in collaboration with the Guglielmo Tagliacarne Study Centre.

Historic center emergency

The closures are mainly concentrated in historic centres. According to the analysis, in the 120 largest municipalities, over 30 thousand retail and street vendors have definitively disappeared in the last 10 years. Thus the commercial density dropped from 12.9 shops to 10.9 shops per thousand inhabitants. A drop of 15.3%. The ones who closed were mainly fuel distributors (-40.7%), bookshops and toy shops (-35.8%), hardware and furniture stores (33.9%), clothing and footwear (-25.5%). The only activities going against the trend are pharmacies and parapharmacies (+12.4%), telephone and computer shops (+11.8%), catering (+2.3%) and hospitality (+42%) in the wake of the success of B&Bs and short-term rentals. A phenomenon that affects both Northern and Southern Italy without distinction. The growth of e-commerce is mainly responsible for the reduction in the number of shops but it still remains an opportunity for traditional “physical” commerce. According to Confcommercio, to avoid the most serious effects of the desertification phenomenon in the heart of cities, local trade must focus on efficiency and productivity, also through innovation and the redefinition of the offer. And omnichannel remains fundamental, i.e. the use of a well-functioning online channel.

«The commercial desertification of our cities continues, a phenomenon that especially concerns historic centers where the reduction in service levels is also exacerbated by the loss of street commerce. However, trade remains vital and responsive and above all maintains its social value. In any case, it remains a priority to combat commercial desertification with urban redevelopment projects to maintain services, liveability, safety and attractiveness of our cities – says Carlo Sangalli, president of Confcommercio -. Confcommercio’s Cities project and the renewed collaboration with Anci go in this direction, confirming our commitment to promoting sustainable urban development and enhancing the social and economic role of local activities in cities”.

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