Sun Jan 20, 2013, 10:57 AM
marmar (68,700 posts)
Independent UK: We don't need chain stores
Sunday 20 January 2013
High streets don't need chain stores
What a load of bilge has been spouted over the demise of Blockbuster, Jessops and HMV. Commentators whimpered over the end of an era, as if we all spent our seminal years on a weekly pilgrimage to leaf through the racks of CDs. This rose-tinted view of the past as being somehow more desirable than the present is the kind of cloying sentimentality that holds Britain back on the world stage. It's sad for the thousands of employees who are losing their jobs, but many are young and will find work with other retailers or distribution centres. In less than a month, 1,400 stores closed or went into administration, the worst figures on record. Many of these properties are "zombies", bad investments the banks should have called in ages ago, killed off by one key group – us, fickle consumers, who have completely changed how and where we shop. The high street of yesteryear will never return, in spite of much hand-wringing on the part of Mary Portas or shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, who wants to launch a "small business Saturday".
There needs to be a new model for the high street which doesn't compete with online shopping and out-of-town superstores, but offers something completely different. Pedestrianisation killed off shopping too – old people who enjoy daily shopping as a social activity, where they can meet people, can't be arsed to walk a mile through a windy piazza. Parking is expensive for families and high rates are forcing out small retailers who make a shopping trip memorable. Ominously, Tesco is planning to infiltrate our high streets in a new guise, as a partner in a chain of coffee shops – the more chains in your high street, the less reason to go there. In the future, most shops will be places where we go to look at stuff we buy online, glorified showrooms.
Instead of retail, low-cost housing, old people's homes and community centres must be placed right at the heart of our towns, not away from transport and services in suburbia. Councils must offer cheap rates to small traders, not chains. It's not all bad news, by the way. John Lewis, Argos, Dixons and Primark all reported excellent sales over Christmas. In the end, running a successful business is about service. My shoemender in Whitstable repaired the broken strap on my old Ferragamo handbag for £26. He did a brilliant job. Shops like that will keep our high streets alive, not blubbing over Blockbusters.
The Guardian has been devoting a huge amount of space to full-page ads claiming the newspaper, along with its stablemate The Observer, "own the weekend". The campaign launched online and in cinemas with a spoof movie trailer, introduced by a self-mocking Hugh Grant, opining about "an integrity that bleeds into everything they do". Not everything, perhaps. Last weekend, guest writer Julie Burchill wrote a stonking piece in The Observer, defending her friend Suzanne Moore against a torrent of abuse from transsexuals who had objected to a piece she had written about feminism in the New Statesman. I laughed when I read Julie's vitriolic riposte to the angry transgender people. What better reward for any columnist? It more than repaid the cost of my Observer. Sadly, the people in charge of "owning the weekend" don't put their money where their mouths are by defending free speech. Following outrage online and on Twitter, editor John Mulholland issued an apology and Julie's piece was removed from the Observer and Guardian website. Pathetic. ...................(more)
The complete piece is at: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/high-streets-dont-need-chain-stores-8458720.html
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