Friday, 23 October 2015

Death Of A High Street

I recently visited my local high street for the first time in a fortnight, only to find that another three 'charity shops' had opened up .... In fact, in all (including the charity shops just off the main road), there are eleven or more such shops in the small shopping area .... an area that is approx. 800 - 1,000 meters of double fronted road shopping.

This is a very worrying trend, as charity shops bring nothing to the local economy, and are in fact a harbinger of its demise ..... These shops pay few wages into the local economy, as the workers are nearly all volunteers, and these charity shop, drive local business shops into near ruination. The local book shops have all gone, simply because the charity shops all offer second hand books, and virtually all the ladies fashion shops have taken a hit, either closing or dropping to the cheaper end of the market, as many women now turn to second hand clothes for cheap fashion fixes.

Charity Shop Creep Invading High Streets

I fear that this sudden increase in the numbers of charity shops (and the loss of three local wage paying businesses that it signifies), is simply the end of the local high street. It will soon become the sole domain of welfare single parents, and pensioners, both with few funds to spend. These high streets never recover once they are broken, and eventually the only thing on them are a few dispirited stores, betting shops, and the ubiquitous charity shops, offering an increasingly mean set of items as the area declines.

There are a number of groups who I consider responsible for this trend:

  • Local planners, who authorise too many 'superstore' and mall developments on the edge of towns .... they suck the very soul out of small local shopping areas. Out of town retail shopping areas may serve a purpose, but the harm they do to local high streets may actually outweigh that advantage in some cases.

  • Local councils, who often seem to adopt a 'Kill The Golden Goose' policy towards the business rates. This particularly applies to those councils whose economic model is based on the 'money tree' philosophy i.e. Private businesses are actually a 'money tree,' which you can visit as often as you want to get more 'free' cash. So they often set greedy business rates, regardless of economic recessions .... these simply serve the purpose of making struggling businesses impossible to keep going. These same councils often set no limit on the number of charity stores which can be accommodated on any one high street ... when in fact these numbers do need strict policing, as these stores are not self-regulating.

  • Local landlords, who rather like the greedy councils, just don't seem to grasp that shop rents should go down, as well as up to reflect local economic conditions. They of course can always fall back on the charity shops paying a rent for the property (although its usually less than that which a thriving business would get).

  • The charities themselves, who just jack up their presence on the high street, regardless of the harm it does .... they are like those charity telephone and mail donation leeches, who just feed off the same elderly victims via so-called sucker lists .... they don't care that they are driving good businesses out of the high street. Nor it seems, that in fact, with the good shopping, also goes the good money. As the vibrant high street dies and the economic footfall drops, the shops only attract the desperate, the unemployed, and in fact the same set of welfare benefit clients, who have no funds to purchase items anyway.

The only solution has to be legislative, because each of the components of the problem are too self centred to act altruistically:

Firstly, if necessary, during weakness in the economy the government should enforce across the board reductions of all in-town business rates on smaller retail shops, and impose a business rate on charity shops to even up the playing field a little. The rates on the charity shops would offset a little, the losses to the local councils incomes. You either lower business rates and still get something back, or drive the businesses into the ground, and end up with a charity shop, which is exempt from business rates, and contributes nothing to the local economy.

Councils should be less concerned with squeezing every last shekel out small businesses, than with driving up paid employment on the high street, by doing everything to encourage private businesses to take up residence. If this means business rates holidays, in times of struggle, then that is surely a better long-term growth option? After all a shop assistant who is paid (as opposed to the often retired voluntary charity worker), is both a local consumer and breadwinner ... and that has to better for the local economy. Eventually the economic conditions will allow business rates to be gradually raised later.

There should be a limit on the numbers of charity shops in a local shopping area (say no more than three per mile) ..... this limit to be managed locally, and also by limiting the number of shops each charity can operate nationally. This may force some charities to compromise on where each can have shops. This would correct a weakness in the landlord system, as they could no longer simply fill up the vacant tenancies with charity shops .... So faced with an empty shop that makes no money, the landlords would have to lower rents to attract new occupants (supply and demand ... oversupply of shops lowers demand), but this would also benefit each charity individually, as where they did have a shop there would be restricted competition. Better donations, better footfall, and better spending .... a win win.

Too late I fear for my local high street, which may already have passed tipping point, but surely some high streets can be saved, if the government acts now.  


  1. Local authorities don't help with parking restrictions which don't allow for passing trade. They Kill the Golden Goose with business rates then pluck it clean with double yellows. Relaxing the restrictions won't be enough though, High Streets need a long overdue redesign for our car culture.

  2. Possibly. But I don't see how.

  3. The situation is the same on many a high street. It's like a retail zombie plague.


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