Association of Town Centre Management (ACTM) chief executive Simon Quinn made the call as the first steps were taken towards establishing a cross-party parliamentary group to look at problems facing the country's high streets.
"The government needs a strategy and vision for our town centres," Quinn said. "The risk is that Scotland will lose the habit of investing in its town centres and shoppers will lose the habit of going there."
He was speaking at a Holyrood meeting arranged by Kirkcaldy MSP Marilyn Livingstone, who reported that she has gathered enough support to set up a cross-party group.
ACTM Scottish chairman Andy Kennedy maintained that high streets could fight off the threat of out-of-town complexes. But he warned: "My fear is that we leave it too late and in ten years we are having to pour millions of pounds in when we could protect these areas now."