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October 15, 2012 / Mervyn Dinnen

High Street Britain 2012

Putney in South West London is reckoned to be the 7th wealthiest place in London and the 30th in the UK, according to average income per resident.

The local High Street has been gradually changing over the last 10 years reflecting the way that our tastes and shopping habits have changed. It was back in 2002 that the last independent music store closed, the owner saying to me at the end of his closing down sale ‘soon it will just be coffee shops, phone shops, hairdressers and banks along here’. At that time he was competing against HMV, Virgin, Woolworths and Smiths who were all selling CDs, DVDs and music & film related artefacts.

Now none of them are there – the first three have gone (along with Blockbuster and Game) and the last one has recently stopped stocking CDs and DVDs. Clearly the way we consume these items has changed over the last 10 years, but gradually the replacement clothing and sports stores have been closing too, replaced with discount shops (Poundland) and more cafes (the Sony shop has recently been taken over by an expanding Prets).

As I walked down the High Street yesterday I was struck by how many empty shops have started appearing and how all the existing shops were advertising reduced prices and special offers.

Some empty shops have been taken over by pop up shops, leaving us with this fairly downbeat scene…

Meanwhile the local independent staffing agency, which used to have a window full of jobs to entice someone in, now has only an invitation to register, with no indication of any jobs…

The area was always crawling with estate agents, yet even they are feeling the pinch. Clearly the optimism which must have accompanied this notice last autumn has disappeared a year later…

As I said at the start, this is one of the wealthiest parts of the UK and the High Street seems to reflect the general economy – flat and lifeless, with temporary pop-up fixes and cut price invitations. In Dominic Sandbrook’s excellent cultural history of the early 70s he writes of the then new obsession with consumption and shopping, referring to shopping streets and centres as:

“A new world in which the guiding lights are spectacle, shopping and sensation”

The current reality seems anything but. There is a campaign to reclaim the local high street for local independents – you can read about it here – but is there the appetite from consumers?

What’s happening in your area? Is it similar? Let me know…

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4 Comments

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  1. Alasdair Murray (@Alconcalcia) / Oct 15 2012 8:28 AM

    Very similar story in Bromley. been saying for a while now the High Street will soon just consist of pound shops, bookies and money lenders. Sad but inevitable state of affairs as the march of the online retailer continues to kill off the local shops. We’re the architects of our own destiny though. technology, as great as it is, has decimated the shopping landscape as well as done away with thousands of jobs in banking and manufacturing to name but two areas of industry. We just don’t need the shops, or the people to work in those shops, anymore.

  2. Robert Wright (@robmwright) / Oct 15 2012 9:56 AM

    I’m fine with high street shops closing down if they’re not viable. Online is simply the way things are moving. The issue is what replaces these shops. I’d rather councils did more to encourage these spaces to be used creatively than just turn them over to the usual Poundland or Tesco Metro. Perhaps cultural or educational spaces? Or residential? The very lovely (and funny) Jackie Sadek of UK Regeneration is worth checking out on blogs, twitter etc about her views – http://www.estatesgazette.com/blogs/jackie-sadek/

  3. Callum Saunders / Oct 15 2012 1:59 PM

    A different story from a northern perspective. For those that don’t know me, I moved from London to the Peak District a year ago, taking on a new job in Manchester and seeking out a better quality of life. I live in a market town called Glossop, which in many ways, is a typical northern market town – not a great deal on the high street – certainly ‘corporate’ presence is limited to Boots, Superdrug and Tesco. However, in recent months, Glossop High Street has seen several independent shops, delis and food places open, opening up previously vacant shops and properties. In the year and a bit I’ve been here, I’ve seen over 7 new businesses open on Glossop High Street. While Manchester continues to swell due to the influx of BBC / media workers and the booming digital scene, the local towns in the local environs are starting to see a tangible benefit. As the NW continues to grow, both in terms of people and economy, (some) high streets are visible markers of this trend. Glossop is a an example of a northern market town that is actually seeing a real growth in terms of local shops, businesses and restaurants. But this is hardly surprising. While London rates (personal and business) remain truly exorbitant, there is real opportunity for local businesses in a cheaper area (the NW) that is experiencing a population influx. The distribution of wealth is slowly seeping outside of the M25 corridor, presenting huge opportunities for local high streets where rent is not constricted by London prices. Certainly a huge opportunity for local towns around Manchester at present.

  4. Ian / Oct 16 2012 7:47 AM

    I live outside Evesham, a small rural market town. Its a similar picture.
    The areas around Evesham are prosperous but it competes with Worcester, Cheltenham, Stratford on Avon, and within an hour big retail centres in Solihull and Bristol.

    The town centre is uninspiring. There was some work completed a couple of years ago to tidy up the centre, but other than some new paving slabs and layout of bus stops there appears to be no vision or direction for the town. There is talk of a new pavement cafe, but again this seems to be short sighted in its potential.

    Clearly retail has to change, and I think there have no probably been too many retail businesses in the past that were probably not viable.

    I just wonder whether town centres need to become more like hubs. I read and know that the world of working is changing and that more people will be working from home. But we know that people need to come together to meet, collaborate and work together. Maybe this could be a small part of a solution to get people back into the town centres.

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