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The state of the high street – a personal view

Today is Small Business Saturday in the UK, but I honestly think many of our urban high streets will never make a return to how things were; not by a long chalk. The way people run and do business, the changed nature of the workplace and the terms of employment for people, the conduct of town planners and local authorities are the main factors for this sorry state. Also, how public demand is and how that consumer related demand is viewed and interpreted by decision makers, plus the continued technological advancing and its impact, are the associated reasons why we have grown and nurtured big, ugly, and often empty blots, twinned with the odd white elephant, that mask the beauty of our heritage buildings and ancient streets. To add fuel to the fire, the streets are then given over to night time revellers who puke on its pavements and smash drinking glasses against walls.

Once, the out-of-town shopping and the supermarket giants were the only problem to hit the health and the wealth of the high street; but this is not the dominating problem now. We island dwellers, have allowed corporate businesses to sell us the American way. We took the idea of the Shopping Mall and embraced it, we liked the very idea of everything being sold under one roof and we ran with it. Since, we’ve found that some festivals and traditions of the US that derived from the ancestry of the British Isles in the first place, have been packaged up and resold back to us in tacky, commercialised forms and presented in the artificial. Choice for consumers is standardised and uninspiring; and much of it cheap and not that cheerful.

I have to tell you this observational tale of mine, it is relevant:
Recently, I was in a local town, I am not a resident – I only ever visit the shopping park on the town’s edge. I was in the car waiting for my daughter. Due to my location and positioning in a Pay and Display I had a clipped view of what appeared to be a busy shopping street. I was admiring a fine example of Victorian architecture and making contrasts in my mind to the grass fronted library building next door. A constant flow of people were emerging in to the car park with shopping bags. I envisaged that perhaps a good old fashioned Butcher, Baker (maybe not the Candlestick Maker) may lie beyond the turn of the corner. In need of a loaf of bread I paid the parking charge, grabbed my loose change and went to see what I could see. As I turned the corner my heart sunk into my boots, I found that grim looking, indistinct structures continued to line both sides, for a stretch of no more than 100 yards. At the street’s end it sloped down and gave way to the entrance of a jaded looking indoor shopping centre, historic in itself, but not for the right reasons! The people I had seen had been doing their shopping in there. For me, this was a metaphor for the state of the nation’s shopping habits – sad but true.

My business is to help with upholding positive online profiles for the deserving, but there is little one person or indeed lots of people working together can do to reclaim the high quality and aesthetic loveliness of the British high street, some market towns and small cities manage it better than many of the larger, more economically strapped areas and it does reflect. I loathe to admit to it, and to say it, but the homemade makers and those trading from home kitchens is a brigade that has saturated the market for fancy food stuffs and home wares particularly. In my opinion these clever people now need to pass over their front doorways, diversify, and now be even more entrepreneurial, and, literally, fill some of those gaps!

Tragically though, I just can’t see communities, whether thriving, or not, making way for any kind of triumphal return for prime located small to middling independents in our lifetime or that of our children.

By Debra Hall –

Note: views expressed are writer’s own and are not associated with TSS or with any business that appears on this platform.

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