It’s cheaper online, it’s easier out of town, it’s two-for-one at the supermarket. The parking in town’s expensive, the big stores have left anyway, and the streets are looking tatty and as Blur sang, inspiring an in-depth study by the New Economics Foundation, “All the high streets look the same.”
But the traditional high street, the pattern of streets in our town centre, the character, feel and local distinctiveness, and the way we shop have all taken a long time to develop. The British shopping experience is unique, our relationship with shops special. We are, after all, a nation of shopkeepers, except for those of us that are shoppers.
And right now, that rich history is under threat. The overheads for shops, buying stock and paying bills, are rising – while customers, hit by growing debt, bigger bills and lower income, are spending less.
But the high street does have a future. To find it, we need to look to the past but also to the future. The old fashioned high street, with local shops tailored to the market, is still a sound idea. Allied to the future of shopping as a leisure activity, and the high street may come back to life again.
We need to revive, restore and ultimately reinvent our high streets, making them entertaining and enjoyable places to spend time. We need to recognise that the high street is a venue for events, an ampitheatre for family life, and make it a distinct place that’s worth visiting. And that’s where meanwhile use of empty shops comes in.
Dan Thompson from the Empty Shops Network in the introduction to his 2009 pamphlet The Empty Shops Workbook