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The Potemkin shop

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[THIS WEEK] Empty shops need a helping hand from canny disguises, writes James Pallister

The British high street is in trouble. There are too many empty shops, the rates are too high and everyone is skint. One answer to the unsightliness and commercial harm of vacant shops is the shopwrap; a temporary trompe l’oeil showing a flat render of what the shopfront might look like with real occupation. It’s been used in Brent, Whitley Bay and Dunfermline.

The Potemkin-shopfront seems fairly bizarre, but it has a surprisingly long line of precedents, especially in the construction industry. In the US, window-sized decals that show signs of habitation (pot plants, blinds) have been stuck on boarded up homes to cut crime.

Years after artists Christo and Jean Claude wrapped buildings, conservationists in cities like Rome and Venice have had to cover buildings during repairs. They soon got wise to the fact that one way of helping fund the works and keeping residents happy was to sell advertising space on these hoardings. Or better still, to print giant versions of what the pristine building would look like once the covers were off.

The shopjacket offers a practical, low-cost solution. Sanitised they may be, but one can imagine these pieces of bittersweet pragmatism proliferating. One of the pioneering British companies behind the service (pictured), Shopjacket, has recently been taking enquiries from towns and cities in mainland Europe. Like hospitals and schools built under PFI, another British export being enthusiastically adopted overseas, it’s easy to see them being adopted by many well-meaning councils and retailers looking to staunch the flow of shoppers away from our high streets, hoping to give tired shops a temporary facade and tempt new businesses in.

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