I love shopping. When I can afford it. Or even just going for a wander round the shops to see some nice things and cheer myself up. ‘Retail therapy’ I think its called. Probably invented to make us feel we are doing good by shopping! When I was growing up high streets were full of independent retailers selling all kinds of things. Greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, chemists, haberdashers, and boutiques – tons of them! It was heaven to go into different boutiques and find different clothes  in each one.

I find nothing more depressing than going into a Gap now for instance…. everything the same, and no difference whichever branch you go to.. Nothing wrong with Gap in itself of course, it’s just that since all the small shops are becoming priced out or forced out, shopping has become rather, well, BORING… and maybe, just maybe, we would make more effort to buy things in shops if there was more individual choice, which didn’t used to mean higher prices…

Many things have contributed to the demise and the mundanity of the high street – online shopping of course being a big factor. We were encouraged to shop online – constant spam and online ads encouraging us to buy stuff we may have glanced at orGoogled, special deals for ordering online, free delivery, free returns… I work in an office and the amount of parcels that come and go all day from women  (and men of course) who order whatever they fancy online and then send back what doesn’t fit etc. (those white and black mottled plastic parcels seem to be on constant rotation!). 

I’m sure I’ve read that constantly ordering stuff and sending it back pushes the prices up…  Shops save a fortune on overheads by getting us to shop online – less staff, no rent for the shops, no heating and so on, but now its apparently our fault that many big name shops are folding or cutting back on stores – even Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser!

There are other factors too of course. Remember that more people  are working from home so are less inclined to wander round the shops at lunchtime. This has also reduced how many people travel on public transport, which I guess will ultimately push the cost of fares up even more. House prices and mortgages have gone up hugely so people have less spare cash.  Yes, people spend a lot on mobile phones etc, but these are one off purchases that last a year or two at least and are used for so much now – music, emailing, messaging, watching films, even making phone calls (!) and yes of course for ordering more stuff online!

But globalisation has played a huge part – small shops cannot survive and high streets are now full of huge global names from around the world, and indeed if you go to many high streets around the UK, they all look the same! In fact, I would say around the world too. No variety or individualism whatsoever. People don’t like it, but only the relatively wealthy can change it for themselves by ‘gentrifying’ certain areas and insisting on more choice. So having a fishmongers or butchers or a farmers’ market is now becoming common in some areas – but only the wealthy can afford it! The rest of us are dumped off with supermarkets – a great invention at the time, but they too have pushed out smaller shops and helped towards the end of the busy high street.   

I remember not so long ago in a high street near me there were all the shops I mentioned earlier, including a grocers where they weighed everything for you and a haberdashery where everything was behind the counter and someone would fetch it for you… and it was a WORKING CLASS area – not expensive at all – all gone now of course.

The saddest ones for me were Woolworths – a big part of my childhood – and British Home Stores – the latter killed by Sir Philip Green’s greed and disinterest. He plundered it and then sold it to a known serial bankrupt for £1, thus destroying the pensions and livelihoods of many loyal workers – a scandal that was never properly dealt with in my opinion.   In fact, he allegedly did it to avoid pension liability. The callousness of some of the unbelievably rich always shocks me – he hardly needed any more money did he?

I guess other factors are soaring rents for shops, the congestion charge (in London) and huge parking fees (if you can park at all), over zealous traffic wardens, an expensive, unreliable and overcrowded public transport system and maybe even fear of rising street crime – moped mugging for instance – all play their part in why our high streets have become so boring and ultimately why shops are closing regularly and staff are losing their jobs.

Where that leaves older people or many of us who don’t want to shop online I don’t know. I myself do shop online for some things, but for clothes and shoes I like to go into a shop and try them and have a look in a mirror! Who doesn’t really? I know many younger people who love to physically shop on a high street but it seems that first we have lost any choice in the shops we can choose from or what we can buy and now we are losing the opportunity to even HAVE shops to go to.

It’s all part of the loss of choice, of individuality, of small businesses, of independent retailers, and of course the hollowing out of our towns and cities by the overpricing of everything from housing, transport, rents for businesses and anything you can think of. (All ultimately to make room probably to build more overpriced properties that only foreign investors can afford….  )

What sad, lonely, boring and isolated society we are heading towards…

Like the song said many years ago … This Town is becoming like a Ghost Town…. It certainly is!

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