High Street Retail is dead, long live High Street Retail

So, is retail dead on the High Street? Are we all changing our spending habits to the point where each County will end up with one or two thriving retail towns or cities with the rest of the spend going to the Net or is is all just a slow adaption to a new and exciting future?
If you're a pessimist then we're all doomed and small shops across the country will end up being converted to tattoo parlours, dens of illicit sex or heaven forbid endless amounts of travel and estate agents. If however you have half a brain and a grasp on history, you will dispel such gloomy thoughts and crack open a bottle to celebrate the future. Many years ago when we evolved from clubbing wives and hunting for our own ends and discovered the benefits of trading, retail was born and in the intervening time it's changed a lot but the High Street which started off as rows of market traders selling anything from freshly hacked meat to black bread and cures for boils has always been a magnet for people. Sometimes we come to buy, sometimes to browse but one thing you cant get from shopping on the net is a conversation and thankfully humanity still enjoys those. Unless you were an aristocrat, shopping, right up until the late 19th century was purely for the daily basics and the first changes to this came about with easier access for the masses to refrigeration and the re invention of Christmas. Refrigeration meant you could store food for longer and it freed up some of our time from the constant search for food. The re invention of Christmas happened in the first half of the 19th century with the launch of Dickens novel 'A Christmas Carol' in which he described Christmas not as a time for binge drinking or just religious worship but as a time for benevolence, families and at least a temporary end to social division. It was a book decades ahead of it's time and it had an almost immediate effect with a major factory owner giving his workers extra days off for Christmas after reading it. Along with the help of many canny retailers of essential items who spotted a market for benevolent gifting, the idea of exchanging presents was borne. So next Christmas when your credit card is maxed out and you want to swear out loud, go to your bookstore and get a copy of Dickens masterpiece and you never know, Christmas past present and future may just visit you that evening.
High Street retail boomed from this period right through to the late sixties and early seventies depending on where you live (mid 80's in Whitehaven) when a new love blossomed in the form of the edge of town supermarkets, those air conditioned palaces where you could buy everything you wanted while breathing in other peoples re cycled farts and slowly developing a headache due to the unforgiving lighting employed in every aisle. They serve a purpose and most of us at some time will shop there but thankfully even they are having to reinvent themselves as shoppers desire smaller more local feeling buildings again. That brings us to the internet and before you think I'm some sort of troglodyte, think again. Even my shop has a web page. Admittedly we do next to bugger all with it at the moment but we have at last embraced the digital world. That said, think back over the last ten years and try to remember how many internet brands have gone by the wayside and if you're a high street lover, you will be pleased to here its lots. The only difference is when an internet trader goes bust, they dont tend to leave a hole on the high street for the doom mongers to moan about.
We are in a period of retail flux that has much less to do with the amount of money in your pocket than it has to do with how we want to spend it and this current period, like the re discovery of Christmas, the advent of the Supermarkets and the advance of the Internet is a decades long change that we should embrace with excitement rather than Valium.
Theres a reason why stores like ours still survive and a good reason why ours looks like a crash between a Fine Wine Merchants and Steptoes back yard. In periods of uncertainty, we all like the warm comforting feeling of the good old days, and even if your good old days were really crap, we temporarily suspend reality and pretend the minute we see something old or retro. We're well into our third decade now with a shop I was told wouldn't last a month in West Cumbria but last Christmas, I knew I was finally on the right track. The reason? Well, my long suffering shop manager Louise for whom the model ships, old bottles, air planes, model cars and even horse riding accessories (honest, they are genuine oldies, no gimp masks in Richardson's) have all been dust collectors said 'you know something, Frank and I go all over the place and I rarely see a shop as nice and original as this'. Nearly 20 years its taken to secure that accolade but having got it, I'm holding onto it!
High Street retail may change but there will always be room for quality, eccentricity and you so the next time you're stressed and you feel you need the comfort blanket of retail therapy, put the mouse down and take a walk down memory lane, and oh by the way, we're at number 26, Lowther Street, Whitehaven right next to a lovely florist, a fab gift shop and directly opposite a proper jeweller and watch maker. Sadly the candlestick chap went years ago!

Comments

  1. I have no idea whatsoever how I just stumbled across this blog but I am so grateful I did! Safe to say I'll be a regular reader from now on. Keep up the great work. And long live local shopping!

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