There are 4,000 fewer restaurants in the U.S. this spring than there were last spring, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. NPD’s Spring 2009 ReCount, a census of commercial restaurant locations in the U.S. compiled in the spring and fall each year, shows restaurant industry units down 1 percent, or about 4,000 units, compared to no growth in spring 2008.

According to the ReCount, collected from April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009, major chains (500+ units), were up 1 percent. Midsize chains (100-499 units) and all other system sizes, including independents, declined. In terms of restaurant styles, the casual dining segment continued to contract across all system types while the quick-service restaurant segment showed no unit growth overall versus last spring. The fine dining segment saw the sharpest decline in units.

“It’s clear that independent restaurants and smaller chains have been most impacted by the slower economy,” says Susan Kleutsch, director of product development-foodservice at NPD. “The recession appears to have weeded out restaurants performing poorly prior to the economic downturn, and this seems most true for independents and smaller chains that are likely having a hard time competing with the resources and marketing power of major chains.”