In the last few years, the face of the British High Street has been changing. Many of our large chains have disappeared from major cities and smaller towns are also beginning to feel the pinch.
In 1776 when Adam Smith first coined the phrase, “Nation of Shopkeepers”, the world was a very different place. In the majority of families, the man worked, and the woman stayed at home to look after the house and family. If the woman worked then very often the eldest daughter stayed at home to look after household affairs.
This meant that shops could have regular opening hours throughout the day, as is still happening today, as there was someone available to do the shopping. The majority of smaller stores and offices opening from 9 in the morning until 5 in the evening. Unfortunately, today those hours are little more than useless for many of the population.
At first this discrepancy between store opening hours and population working hours showed itself in the growth of large supermarkets. Many of them open until late in the evening and in more recent years moving to 24 hour opening. Now with the advent of internet shopping and home delivery, these stores are becoming more akin to distribution centres in many cases.
For smaller towns where the High Street was the focus of the town the problems are similar but slightly different. Many local residents will work in major employment centres in nearby larger towns or cities. They will leave home before the local shops open and they will return home after the local stores close. At the weekend they will want to do something with their family which will also mean travelling to a larger town or city. The majority of shopping is done online which can mean that some residents of a town very rarely walk their local High Street.
What can be done to bring local residents back to their local High Street? There are a number of options being tried out around the country as local businesses try to encourage local spend.
Brekland Council in Norfolk is funding a Digital High Street project to give independent shops in 5 local towns a 24hr web presence. Shoppers can click and collect their purchases from in-store or at out-of-hours collection points.
Bishopthorpe Road in York has done something similar, bringing all the shops together under one banner and launching a website with the tagline “More than shops, it’s the heart of the community”. With a community garden, cinema and nightclub, it is not just a place to shop, it is a place for the community to get together for entertainment and socialising.
Ely has also grown with an increase in independent shops. Local businesses putting their success down to the strength of what they offer customers. From a great programme of events and variety of traders to complimentary coffee and excellent customer service.
In this technological age, shoppers don’t need to go to their local High Street, it is up to local businesses to make them want to go there. Many people want to support local businesses, now is the time for local businesses to give them that opportunity.