Have out of town retailers killed town centres?

I was interested to read over the weekend, an article describing the worrying scene, found up and down the length of Britain – closed high street shops.

Deceased chains such as Woolworths and Principals, traditionally based on the high street, have left big toothless gaps in many of our towns. Camberley, Hertford and Barnet have been particularly badly hit, with areas including Blyth, Salford and Rochdale also suffering from a decline in retailers. Gateshead has even been reported as having a 52% void (or empty commercial premises) on its high street.

The recession, increasing unemployment figures and a subsequent lack of spend, as well as the comparative ease in investing in online sales instead, has forced these shops, some of them household names for decades, to close their shutters forever, leaving our town centres dark, despondent, quiet and ugly.

We look at the broken windows and shutters and tut, wishing for that silver lining. But have we brought it on ourselves? Have we had it coming to us? The trend for out of town shopping, despite independent shopkeepers’ warnings, brought with it cheaper prices, wider choice and ease of shopping, with many chains sited next to each other. We were delighted, but occasionally wandered into town when we wanted something in particular that no-one else had. Lets not forget also, our trusted friend the internet, giving us global choice, cheaper prices and that anonymous shopping experience. Oh the joys of shopping in our pyjamas!

The option of physically choosing something individual is now being taken from us – and we’re partly to blame. By ignoring the smaller retailer, we expected them to simply be there when we needed them, to hang around and look pretty. Footfall fell, the recession hit and suddenly, we’re forced to follow the big chains. Not so delighted now, are we?

For those independents who still remain, we must use them regularly, and help our local economy as much as possible. Unemployment is forecast to drop even further, bringing more bad news. For many shops, it will simply be too much and every sale will count.

To avoid having town centres filled with charity shops, pawnbrokers and “Everything a pound” stores, make a note in your diary to visit a well-loved shop at least once a week. If we all do so, then we just might make a difference.

For the full article, click here


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