How The Town Centre Has Changed
When I was a kid, very early 1970s, I used to walk to school. (‘WTF are you talking about ? People used to actually WALK to school?’ – I hear you say).
We used to set off 25 minutes at the latest before we were due to actually go into the school building. We’d walk down the road, cross the zebra crossing, walk past the newsagent, the insurance broker, down another 100 yards, past the café, the Crown public house then up the main street in town. Along this street were 2 estate agents, an opticians, 2 chain travel agents, 2 newsagents, a ladies hairdressers, a dry cleaners, 2 butchers, 2 pubs, 2 green grocers, a fish and chip shop, a sports shop, a gents barbers, a jewellers, a pet shop, 2 insurance brokers ( one was a payment point for Abbey National , the other was a Prudential branch ). There were 2 building societies, 3 banks, a tobacco shop, the bloke who did shoe repairs & cut keys, a greetings card/gift shop, a bakers ( who also sold pies and sandwiches ), an Interflora flower shop, an Oxfam shop, the local cheap shop ( which sold a bit of everything ) a watch repair / watch retailers, the local bookmakers a Chinese takeaway and a shoe shop. There was also a small family owned supermarket, which sat happily alongside all the local traders.
Down the other main street there were a couple more pubs, the electricity showroom, where you could also pay your bill, a hardware shops, a gents outfitters that also offered wedding suit hire. There was a record shop and another coffee shop. Another fish & chip shop where you could also buy ‘ wet fish’ to take home to cook. Plus there was the tv repair and rental shop, which was next door to the small toy shop another couple of banks, a small car spares shop, an off licence, a restaurant for those special nights out and a car showroom with petrol sales, an office supplies shop, a local print shop next to a decorating supply shop and finally a dentist.
There’s also an indoor market which was small, with about 12 stalls. Of these 2 sold meats & pies, 1 sold shoes & trainers 1 was a traditional butchers, 2 fruit & veg, 1 kids clothing, 1 sold records, 1 sold underwear, there was a seller of second hand books and over printed magazines, a woman who sold knitting wool and finally the guy who sold collectors items, such as coins, stamps, cigarette cards. There was also a small café in there.
Twice a week there was an outdoor market, usually more fruit, veg, bread sellers, a couple of flower sellers and a couple who sold mis-shaped sweets and broken biscuits.
I think you get the picture and I’m sure many of you can relate and see in your minds eye, the type of scenario I am talking about.
So let’s look at the same town centre today;
The dentist is still there, there are 2 building society branches and 4 banks still. There are 4 charity shops, 3 barbers competing on price, with haircuts from £4.50. A Greggs, a Tesco, a Home Bargains, a couple of chain bookmakers, 2 pubs a Weatherspoons where the ‘ posh ‘ restaurant used to be. There are a couple of newsagents, a couple of greetings card shops. A second hand goods cash converters type shop, a 99p discount shop, 3 curry take aways, 2 pizza aways, 2 taxi offices, an opticians, a polish shop, one insurance brokers, the local ‘cheap shop’ is still there, there’s no flower shop, no sports shop. The indoor market is like a ghost town, with very little in there. The decorating shop has closed, the printers closed, the petrol station closed, the Tesco now has the petrol station. There’s several tea shops / coffee shops sprung up. The toy shop closed, the dry cleaners closed down, there’s an Italian restaurant, a Chinese in addition to a couple of fast food burger/kebab/ fried chicken takeaway. The tobacco shop is no more, same with the off licence which has now become a shop selling inkjet refill cartridges.
So what happened ?
If you wanted clothes from M&S, British Home Stores, C&A and these types of stores you had to venture into the cities. Same with Argos stores, Woolworths, ASDA supermarkets, these were all in the city. Yes people ventured out into the city, once a week, once a month depending on what you needed. Otherwise, you shopped in town, picked items up when you needed when you were passing.
Out of town shopping has killed off a lot of high streets, according to some reports. But are people forced at gun point to go out of town to shop ? NO not in the least. It’s their choice.
Pubs are closing 1 every hour or whatever the rate is, people are up in arms. Sat complaining on social media, from the comfort of their homes, sat on their laptop with a 70p can of supermarket lager in their other hand as they type. You can’t call yourself a pub goer, when you pop in on a bank holiday and Boxing Day each year. Mothers Day you’d go into town and buy a bunch of flowers, pay for them to be delivered by Interflora, now people log onto the Asda or Tesco website and order from there. Greeting cards, were often bought at the Post Office, again picked up in the supermarket during the weekly shop. If you forget, don’t worry, just pop online and order there for next day delivery, a personalised card instead. Kids need trainers or sports kit, let’s shop online or pop into the out of town retail park. While we’re there we can visit the supercheap savers type shop and buy the household cleaning products, no need to pop into the local shop in town, We’ll grab a sarnie from the fast food chain sandwich shop too, saves calling into the small shop in our home town.
Phew after all that out of town shopping, we need a pint, so we might as well pop into the Spoons on the way home and take advantage of their £1.00 a pint lager. We can then talk about booking a holiday, so we’ll get out tablet or smart phone out and browse online. We don’t need to bother with a travel agents in town, who needs face to face time, we might as well use the free wi-fi here and decide on where we want to go to.
Don’t Get Me Wrong;
I am not saying technology or advancement in retail services is a bad thing, far from it. What does annoy me though is the people who moan about it and are often the main culprits. Yes the local post office closed, because people didn’t use it enough. Yes the local pubs closed, same reason plus it’s not that people have cut back on drinking, it’s that a lot buy from the hypermarket out of town.
If you want to keep your local butchers going, then go and buy your weekly joint of meat there instead of Aldi or Morrisons.
Lazy Or Frugal
Pop into any big supermarket on any day and observe what people are coming out of the store with. Reams of photocopy paper (bye bye stationers) handful of Christmas cards, magazine and newspaper (bye bye newsagents), can of motor oil ( bye bye car spares shop), bunch of flowers ( bye bye florists), 24 pack of lager ( won’t be seeing you in the pub or off licence this weekend then) ……
Did you ever used to get your eggs delivered with your milk? What about going to the local shop and buying eggs which have come from a local egg supplier, direct from the farm?
I think you get the drift where this is going ? Are people buy these items in the superstores to save money, to save time or both? The reason your local high street looks like a ghost town, the reason the local market has 2 stalls on a Saturday instead of the previous 20, is YOU the shopper.
The high street insurance broker where you can go in for advice as to which policy you need. The travel agent where it was a friendly face who made recommendations because they’d already been to the resort. Again these are things majority of under 50s ( plus many over 50s) now buy online.
Decide what’s important to you !