…copied over from a post I wrote elsewhere:
Earlier this week, I was further down the West Country with Elder Daughter for a couple of days. We’d planned to do some serious walking, but the weather was foul on the first day, so we visited some new-to-her towns instead, and bought some bits & bobs for our respective market stalls/online shop. The first town we visited was one I knew well as a child & teenager, back in the Dark Ages. It used to be very posh & prosperous, with a long twisty high street wending its way down a steep hill; my grandfather’s tailor was at the top and his cobbler/bootmaker halfway down. It’s very different now.
A big modern shopping development has been built alongside the High Street. It has several stories of car parking, topped by two more of big High Street “names” – all the biggies are there, in large, clean modern units. It was hardly bustling but there were plenty of people wandering aimlessly about, a few toting branded bags. And it’s completely sucked the life out of the old High Street; every second little shop was empty, and there were beggars sitting in the doorways, empty hats on the pavement, staring hopelessly out, poor souls. Hardly anyone was passing that way to see them.
Admittedly the big local industry has also withered away and died, but it was very clear that the shopping centre had completely replaced the High Street for day-to-day stuff. So all the money spent in that town is draining away to shareholders in London & further afield, instead of helping local people prosper. If it’s anything like this little town, the advent of the shopping centre will have pushed up the High Street rents beyond anything a genuine local small business start-up can afford, too. Although there were some very good bargains in the two local charity shops we eventually stumbled across, shopping in that town was a depressing & draining experience.
We then visited two smaller towns nearby, also favourite haunts of my youth. The only big name shops were those that had been there for many years, in little eccentric premises with tiled doorways and uneven floors. Both towns were bustling, with people carrying baskets or pulling trolleys, cheerily greeting each other and stopping to chat or go for a cuppa in one of the pretty little independent, reasonably-priced cafes. We found some excellent bargains and enjoyed our time there hugely.
Next day, after a bracing walk on the coastal path, we called in to a little seaside town that has attracted a lot of attention from a TV chef. We found the interesting-looking little shops clustered around the harbour were nearly all branches of big-name clothes shops, exactly the same ones that infest our own small but upmarket town. We were actually looking for a butchers or (sensible) fishmongers, but the lass in the tiny convenience store told us that “the big T&sco up top of the hill” had “done for” anything like that. So most of the money being spent there by the hordes of wealthy tourists who flock to this town is draining straight off upcountry again, and the locals have virtually no choice where to buy their groceries any longer. And their money is also trickling away from their community.
The moral of this story being, if you are lucky enough to still have small family-run shops where you are, please support them, even if things cost a little bit more. That’s your own friends & neighbours you’re supporting. And if you have any say in these matters, resist the siren voices that tell you that big new shopping centres & supermarkets will attract more business; maybe they will, but only to themselves.