Struggling shopkeepers stand to reap the rewards of further investment in Birmingham's retail property stock, says a sector expert.
Just over two years have passed since the opening of Bullring - arguably one of the most significant events in UK retail history - some parts of the city centre are struggling to keep up with the successful areas.
And, according to Paul Brewer, head of retail at GVA Grimley in Birmingham, that trend may continue with sites such as the former Beatties store in Corporation Street - always previously a prime location - now closed and its future looking uncertain.
Pre-Christmas sales - once unheard of - have now become commonplace, and retailers are being forced to think of ever more creative ways to lure customers away from internet shopping sites and back into their stores.
The good news, he says is that the slowdown in retail consumer spending may have bottomed out and, buoyed by better than expected Christmas figures, the sector has good reason for cautious optimism.
That prediction is reinforced by the region's growing reputation as a retail and leisure centre. Birmingham has leapfrogged cities like Manchester and Glasgow to become the number two rated city in the UK for shopping - second only to London.
"On top of that, a whole raft of retailers have reported unexpectedly strong showings over Christmas," Mr Brewer tells Business Property Review.
"The most notable performance has come from Marks & Spencer, who not so long ago were experiencing problems.
"Amazingly, M&S enjoyed its best Christmas for three years.
"Closer to home, our own Bullring reported its most successful Christmas yet, recording some of its busiest days since the centre's record-breaking opening weekend in September 2003."
G VA Grimley's own research confirms this change in fortune. According to the consultancy's figures for the final quarter of last year, October 2005 saw the volume of retail sales rise for the third consecutive month, pushing the annual growth rate up to 1.5 per cent.
However, with retailers continuing on the whole to sacrifice profit margins in attempts to boost sales volumes, the value of growth remains lower than it could be.
Mr Brewer picks up the story, saying: "These latest figures certainly bring further hope that the slowdown in consumer spending may finally have passed the bottom of the current cycle.
"It's also good news for the retail property market, which remains the best performing property sector in terms of rental growth, both in Birmingham and UK-wide."
So, in light of this relative buoyancy, how can Birmingham's retail market expect to fare in the future, and which areas of the city are the ones to watch?
"Despite better than expected performances over Christmas, the climate in 2006 will remain tough and retailers would do well to be cautious," answers Mr Brewer. ..SUPL: