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Napoleon famously dismissed England as a nation of shopkeepers. If present trends continue, an invading French imperial army could march down every English high street from Dover to Carlisle and encounter nothing but tumbleweed. What the recession failed to kill, the internet is mopping up. Instead of a thriving thoroughfare of British boutiquiers , a modern-day Bonaparte would find charity shops, betting shops and “everything for a pound” emporiums. One in seven shops in the U.K. lies empty, and the attrition is not confined to the high street. Out-of-town centres are being deserted by consumers who prefer fibre-optic highways to car parks, leaving 16 per cent of mall units gathering dust, nationwide.

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