The High Street’s getting younger, Bill

TagAnother retail expert is telling us the High Street is dead. Last year it was Westfield employee Mary Portas, this year it’s clone town retail executive Bill Grimsey. ‘The High Street is dead’ he says, promoting his book and launching another ‘independent’ report into the High Street.

The High Street is dead, he said on BBC Breakfast, and should be converted to housing and leisure uses. I can’t disagree that we need more diverse use, a better mix, and to bring back housing ā€“ Pop Up People was published in January 2012 with much the same findings. But there’s a difference; Bill Grimsey says retail has no place. It’s dead, killed by the internet. Young people will only want to shop online so in ten year’s time, there won’t be any shoppers, he reckons.

Which is odd because if you actually visit a town centre you’ll find it’s as full of teenagers as it ever was. Unsurprisingly, they don’t shop in the places that Bill Grimsey has run, the big box DIY chain Wickes for example. Those shops, based in the out-of-town developments and the shopping centres, not on the High Street, have closed in their thousands.

Working on the Retail Ready People project, it’s become obvious that young people are amongst the most passionate champions the High Street has. People under 30 get the purpose of the high street, seeing it as a social as well as a selling space. They want local shops, independents, doing something different ā€“ as well as the cheap chains like H&M and Primark. Young people mix and match their style, cheap Converse knock-offs with an expensive Jack Wills hoodie ā€“ and they mix and match uses in a shop too.

Talk to young people, give them an opportunity like they’ve had in the Retail Ready People programme or the Carnegie Trust’s Test Town competition, and you’ll be as optimistic as me about the future of our town centres. The clone town is dead, big box retail isn’t working, but the High Street is alive and getting younger.

Dan Thompson is the founder of the Empty Shops Network and author of Pop Up Business For Dummies. He devised the Retail Ready People project, giving young people a chance to test ideas on the high street.

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3 responses to “The High Street’s getting younger, Bill

  1. Some nice thoughts Dan and I share your concern that Bill Grimesy may be taking a rather negative view about the future of the high street. I agree with him that it’s dying and I concur on most of the reasons why. But where we differ is that I think we should be doing something about it on a socio-economic level. There should be central government intervention, which I know is not something a capitalist shopkeeper like me should be advocating!

    In terms of the high street demographic though, I doubt we can survive entirely on the enthusiasm of the young. Unfortunately they’re also the group that has less disposable income and tend to prefer to spend what they do have on socialising and other less tangible expenditure. It’s the 30-60 age groups we need to get shopping again and I think that can be done if they’re given a reason to re-visit the high street, both in metaphysical and a literal sense.

    I’m looking forward to hearing what Bill and his new review will have to say. I hope it’ll be a lot more focussed on pressing the government to take action on all those things we’ve know for so long are killing high streets. Rents, rates and parking charges. If it turns out to be capitulation of small high streets and a charter to benefit only property developers and landlords I might be singing a different tune. But let’s wait and see.

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