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Friday, 18 January 2013

From High Street To Low Street

Are we seeing the death of the high street in the UK?

The recent closures of well known stores such as Jessops, Comet, HMV and Blockbuster videos, all of whom have a footfall on the main shopping streets of the UK, seems to just add to the sense of decay that many of the UK's city centres seems to extrude.

I can from my own experience give an example of the decline ... 10 years ago in my local high street, there was only one or two Charity shops (out of maybe fifty shops), all the rest were commercial concerns selling everything from hardware to fruit and vegetables (with all stops in between), and including two indoor markets.

Now there are around ten charity shops (and more coming), as well as the complete closure of one of the indoor markets. It lends a sense of crisis to the high street when there are nothing but charity shops, betting shops and tanning salons, and its much the same (if not worse) in the local shopping high streets in the neighbouring areas.

Now if you believe in the capitalist spirit, either this is just an inevitable decline, brought about by the rise of Shopping Malls, Superstores, and the impact of the Internet as the new 'high street', and that eventually some entrepreneur will move in and take the now cheap empty shops and start selling products again ... in fact the evidence is that this is not the case this time.

What could you sell in a shop cheaper than on a website or a Superstore with either their low costs or economies of scale? There is nothing apart from builders bricks and items like that, and what's left is sold in the shopping malls, so this may well be a permanent societal change.

Obviously, there are consequences when a high street declines, which are not always just the local economic collapse that this entails but social as well. This blog has discussed the impact of the collapse of the centres of towns before, especially in the US where there has been a number of small towns declared 'bankrupt' as their main employers and productive population move away, often to leave only the unemployables as the sole residents of once prosperous towns.

The question all this raises is, if the empty high streets are just symptom of the general decline of the old shop retail model, or could they also be the trigger even for a more general decline in small cities and towns? In other words could the closure of the high street, and the general local economic decline this might trigger, be the driver of employers and the productive populations moving away?

If the answer to this is yes, then is the UK on the verge of a societal crisis,with these towns abandoned by the middle classes and left to the left wing politicians and the un-working classes. There are examples across the UK as well as the US.

Fleetwood In Lancashire Has Seen Better Times.

I wonder if this is going to be the true post industrialisation legacy in the West .... Rustbelt towns, with no amenities, high crime, and no viable high streets. For every successful main street such as Clyde Ohio, there four or five 'Stockton's' in California, where the collapse was sudden.

Clyde Ohio - Main Street

Possibly time to consider some ways of equalising the advantages of Superstores and Internet to save the high streets and possibly save our towns and cities from collapse as well. Maybe a special purchase tax and tax rebates for physical shops ..... I fear we are sleepwalking in to a social problem that could be averted by action now.

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