RECESSION-hit Sandwell towns are to have empty shops camouflaged to make them look “open for business” in a bid by the council to help retailers beat the economic downturn.

The first in the series of ‘fake’ shop fronts has been installed at the former Kwik Save in High Street, Cradley Heath, which has been dressed up to resemble a shop selling musical instruments.

Art galleries, bicycle shops and delicatessens are just some of the window dressings to be installed in more than 100 disused shops throughout the borough during the next year to improve the look of high streets and to attract new businesses.

The novel project was unveiled by cabinet nember for employment, skills and partnerships Councillor Ann Shackleton who said the initiative would not only make the streets look attractive, but also support surrounding businesses.

“As a result of the recession, businesses have struggled and shops have closed leaving behind high streets with a number of empty units.

“This scheme improves the appearance of shopping areas in Sandwell and makes them more attractive to potential investors. Our aim is to get these vacant shops filled as soon as possible and this can only help,” she said, adding: “Empty shop fronts can also have a detrimental effect on surrounding businesses and this will hopefully boost the perception of our towns to visitors.”

The project has also been welcomed by the Sandwell Traders’ Association executive officer Peter Griffin who described the scheme as being “very worthwhile” which would give the high streets a much-needed boost.

“A large number of shops are vacant at the moment but this will make people focus on the positives in the towns.

“A similar project in Birmingham was very successful and a number of shops were let as a result,” he said.