The news of high profile retail companies going into Administration this month, Jessops and HMV followed hot on their heels by Blockbuster, has opened up further discussions about the High Street and its apparent demise.
The generally aired view is that the High Street is dying and we need to stop shopping on-line with corporate (non-tax paying) giants such as Amazon, and stop going to out of town superstores run by vicious land owning local farmer haters, Tesco, or we will never see the shops returning and our High Streets will never be the same again.
As usual, the argument is put as a false dichotomy; we have ‘baddie’ consumers who don’t support the High Street shops (not to be confused with the ‘local’ shops I must add) and the ‘goodie’ consumers who shop ethically, consciously and discerningly. The argument is framed simply about what type of consumers we are – as opposed to an open exploration as to why we consume, what we consume or why this is so important.
If the argument is that the High Street will collapse without the retailers, then where is the discussion about community and what it means to live in a community? Yes, shops play a part in a thriving town centre but maybe we need to start realising that they are a part of it and not the part. What if town centres were actually about a mix of community activities and local shops?
How is the demise of a few bloated retail outfits at the end for the Town Centre?
I am yearning for a debate to unfold that can help me formulate my thoughts on this. But the current perspectives on the “High Street” are unsatisfactory.
I would like to see us having a wider debate about that nature of society, about community and what those concepts really mean and ought to mean. What is a town or village centre actually for? What purpose does it serve, outside of the current narrow role of being a retail centre, a glorified cathedral for the worshippers of Mammon?
I can’t see us as a society changing all of our habits against the needs of retailers even if some of those retailers want us to retain shopping habits that we have outgrown. This means that there has to be more creative thinking, a much broader approach to the discussion than the ‘good consumer’ vs ‘bad consumer’ theory which is naïve and unhelpful. Our consuming behaviour has changed beyond recognition; for example, much as I wanted to go to HMV for Christmas presents for my teenagers, all their music and films are downloaded! That is the way it is done now regardless of whether or not my generation has fantasies about record shops and the way things used to be.
Surviving in any business is all about being on your toes, offering the absolute best, serving customers in a way they want to be served. I want us to start to understand what it means to be a Community without national retail uniform shops that I would personally argue have turned the High Street into dull, invisible streets of ‘sameness’ with a dollop of dull. Changing is the new standing still!
What are your thoughts about our High Streets and how we can widen the debate to embrace a different ideology?