The High Street is open for business. Debenhams has closed. And now we can all go out, we can see that there are plenty of other ‘units’ boarded up. My, there are some very big gaps in town/city centres. Footfall was falling well before the pandemic. It seems unlikely that those big retail units are going to be fully occupied any time soon.
When I was a teen, I’d regularly go to town just for something to do. I’d wander around and browse. Of course, there were plenty of record shops for me to visit but I’d look at clothes, watches, anything really. There were precious few places to eat. Plenty of pie shops but the only hot food available was in a chippy or the top floor of a department store and then strictly at lunchtime. I used to take my own sandwiches.
Now, I don’t browse at all. I go to shops for something specific. Buying clothes online has been hit and miss, so I prefer to go to an actual shop. More than 90% of my music is purchased online (the record shops don’t have what I want any more). I don’t think I’d ever buy jewellery online but I don’t actually buy jewellery at all. Food I can get locally or at a supermarket where I can park for free. Parking in town costs real money. However, these days there is no shortage of eateries.
There are out-of-town retail parks. They have everything, attempting to attract people for a day out. Free parking, lots of hot food, plus entertainment such as cinemas or game centres, often all under the same roof. I find them dispiriting and soulless.
To be honest, I cannot imagine going into a town centre very much in the future. I might hit them for a specific smash and grab every now and then. Otherwise, the little I actually need, I’m likely to walk round the corner or stay in the warmth and buy from the internet.
When I qualify for a bus pass, I could have a day out, pick some nice fish from the market, enjoy some small independent retail business, drink a coffee, maybe see a film or visit an art gallery or library. I could take the grandchildren on a little trip.
However, things are going to have to change. Town centre business rates and rents are prohibitive. Tax needs to be more fair so that the independents can stand a chance up against the mighty Tax Dodgers. Car parks need to be free. Do we really believe that we can build back better after the pandemic or is this government of chancers going to continue to look after its mates?
Jonathan Richman had fun shopping, back when I was 18. I’m hoping there is still some fun to be had into the future.