The 'death of the High Street'

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  • Lots of articles are being written about the 'death of the High Street'. I'm not sure it's started to affect us in (Central and Inner) London that strongly yet, as the population density is currently so high, but there are plenty of places where it is keenly felt.

    Many of the articles are about chains closing shops--in cycling, we have the threat of a lot of Evans shops closing, or here's one about M&S.

    I personally don't care too much about the High Street that's full of shops tied to chains, and again, in London we're lucky to still have large numbers of independent shops, but there are plenty of places where the High Street has long been more heavily dominated by chains, and when they go, it may take a long time, if it happens at all, for independent shops to establish themselves.

    The main threat for the High Street is today seen as distributors like Amazon, loss-making enterprises undercutting local businesses through their web-sites, backed by long-term venture capital riding on destroying locally-base competition and reducing the workforce by means of robot technology--both on the warehouse floor and, perhaps, although this is by no means certain to happen, delivery by drone (seen as viable in rural areas and impossible in urban environments). I think both of these aims are extremely objectionable and I vastly prefer going to shops and buying things there in person.

    However, I think the main threat to High Streets is still the same as it has been for a long time, only in new clothes--artifically suppressed transport costs. Decades ago, this was the cause of 'out of town' shopping centres springing up in green fields, externalising transport costs to those who drove there and subsidised the business with their fuel. If the cost of driving reflected the true cost, this wouldn't have happened. Needless to say, mail order, of which on-line ordering is merely the slightly modernised version, is nothing new, either. It doesn't get much more 'out of town' than processing orders via a web-site and then having stuff trucked to all the corners of the country, again exploiting transport costs kept artificially low by various political tendencies.

    It's been variously asked if the High Street was ever a good thing in the first place and whether we shouldn't just 'embrace change' and get used to the new normal--e.g., say goodbye to the traditional model of predominantly goods being sold there and replace that with services. As I said above, I don't think chain shops are necessarily a good thing, but the concept of the market place/bazaar/high street etc. is ancient for a reason, because it's a good concept--a mixture of private and public businesses accessed, importantly, unlike in a 'shopping mall', via the public realm or something close to it (as in the large London markets, for instance). This creates places in towns where people come together and has historically been one of the defining characteristics of what distinguished towns from villages (and in fact 'elevated' many villages into towns). I think it's very important for the High Street to survive and I doubt very much that the current actions of the aforementioned long-term investors are benign--we already see some of the instability developing that comes from people being out of secure work because they're 'replaced' by machines, surviving instead on a meagre diet of unreliable and/or infrequent 'gigs', and I think this can only get worse.

    Anyway, plenty to discuss around that.

  • Davies fishmongers on Hoe St, Walthamstow closing today.

    One of the last family run businesses left in Walthamstow; been there for many decades. Their hot and cold smoked salmon (done in the premises) was legendary.

    Sad day.

  • I don't think the business model of web sales delivered to your door, or other convenient location, is objectionable per se, but I do think the business practices of some of companies are.

    Local distribution can be quite efficient in urban areas, especially compared to loads of people driving to out of town shopping centres.

    I do agree absolutely that communities suffer when local shops go. I've been in Walthamstow for over 20 years.

    Ditchfields toy shop - bought my kids first bikes there, closed about 5 years ago;
    East London Sausage company - christmas turkeys, kids grew up eating their sausages, used to get a given a Panettonne by Mick most Christmas's, closed last year;
    Davies - as above, closing now.

    It's not so much that I can't find this stuff elsewhere (albeit less conveniently), it's the social interaction, the little bit of banter, bumping into friends and neighbours in the queue.

    The internet can't replace that.

  • A curious phenomena is that of people buying from the likes of Amazon without a single thought and then bemoaning the state of the high street, and the high street operators assuming that access by car is the only way to get goods sold in competition with the online competition. This has increased vehicle use enormously. It also displays a curious ignorance of the big picture.

    In addition there is the constant pressure to buy new stuff, and the consequences of that. The news reports a decline in sales and profits as bad news, when actually it might be exactly what we need right now.

    In our town we have a lot of empty shops but the rents (and to some extent) the business rates are the same for someone wanting to run a social enterprise as a high street chain. I ran one for a few years in an old shop, but had the devil's own job getting help with a reduction in the rates from the council, even though we attracted hundreds of people into the town every week (and hardly any of them by car), and were a not for profit organisation. When we lost the use of the building we were never able to get any help finding somewhere new, the local authority the business improvement district, other traders were completely uninterested.

  • There’s a lot of unseen forces that we don’t know about making it harder for the high street; stuff like the internet shopping boom is just part of it.

    For instance, most high street premises are now owned by big banks and property management companies, who have a duty to return value to their business owners/shareholders; in the UK this is regarded as meaning that leasing a property to a non-chain organisation (like a non-profit) is bad, because they don’t have the legs to keep going. And when/if they stop trading they will also have debts, so it’s now generally harder to rent a shop premises if your name isn’t ‘topshop’ or whatever.

  • Although that rationale doesn't seem so strong when recent history is littered with established retailers either going bust or being bought in distress by venture capitalists / Mike Ashley whose main MO is to screw landlords and creditors.

  • people buying from the likes of Amazon without a single thought and then bemoaning the state of the high street

    I define British-ness by this (I am forrin and in my country the online shops are failing after a huge boom as people prefer local and are generally more empathetic)

  • It’s like when people side step taxes then bemoan the quality of state provided services.

  • I can confirm that I have never purchased fresh fish or sausages of any kind from Amazon.

  • I know loads of people who have their fresh fish and sausages delivered, and our local vendors of both have shut their town centre shops after over a century of business.
    I get my rice and lentils delivered too, although there never has been a good place in town to buy those in all the time I've lived here.

  • Cruson the greengrocer in Camberwell is shutting, due to the ripe age of Aris, but still a great shame. 50 years in the same shop ain't too bad. Just going to have to stockpile my offcuts of unidentifiable pumpkins or ask TFC to stock them.

  • That will be a loss to the landscape of Camberwell

  • Why would I want to go down my high street with my kids? It's horrible. Whichever one I look at. Crystal palace. Forest hill. Sydenham. Dulwich. Brixton. Noisy as fuck, traffic fucked. Nothing there to see or do.

    Why wouldn't I prefer to have my food delivered (so I don't go to the box shop)?

    Shopping and mooching around a town and a market shouldn't require eyes everywhere because traffic, it shouldn't require me to shout above road noise.

  • Also. I am fully aware that ordering from somewhere and having it delivered undercuts the high street. And contributes to the heat death of the universe.

  • The govt could easily resolve this through taxation. If they wanted to level the playing field then they could charge Amazon et al a business rate for their warehouses equivalent to the entirety of Oxford St. (because that's probably the amount of revenue a big DC generates for a company).

    There's no political will. People only care for convenience and will undoubtedly bemoan the loss of the high street once the only interaction they have each week is closing the hatch on their drone delivery.

    I went to B&Q today and WISHED I could have ordered that shit online.

  • I hate online. I really like to touch the things I'm buying.*

    I hate real space. All those fucking people.

    *An easy goal here

  • I dislike going to private shops, talking to people I don’t know, mostly I’ve discovered I have nothing in common with them and they have nothing interesting to say. Staring into space, making pointless chit chat whilst waiting for card transactions to go through at the till. When ordering things from people in shops they often got the order wrong.

    I prefer perchasing items online. I’m a millennial. Discuss.

  • The high street doesn't really serve any purpose for me and it's usually cheaper to shop online anyway. From experience, I think most people my age ish (21) share the same opinion. I do prefer shopping in physical shops for specific things (e.g. records, going to a record shop is an experience... digging, chatting to staff, getting recommendations etc, same when buying music equipment etc). The average high street shop doesn't offer that, and most of the time they won't have what I want anyway.

    My main worry is that if a large number of bigger high street retailers shut the likes of amazon will take their place, lots of people will loose their jobs and companies such as amazon will become much more powerful than they already are. I suppose it could mean more specialist shops opening but I don't feel like such shops can make enough physical, rather than online sales to justify having a physical premises rather than just online.

    I think a lot of it comes down to the level of disposable income people have. I don't notice the same issues in London with shuttered/empty shops all over the high street as I do up north which is probably due to people up north having lesser disposable income. I feel like if you have spare money you can go down high street and buy stuff without really needing it or planning the purchase, which a lot of people can't afford to do.

  • The high street doesn't really serve any purpose for me

    You're a tiny portion of the demographic.

    I don't feel like such shops can make enough physical, rather than online sales

    ..hence the the argument for the 'death of the high street'

    which is probably due to people up north having lesser disposable income.

    What?

    Care to elaborate on which magical hat of imaginary statements you came up with that from?

  • Maybe here:

    https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/regionala­ccounts/grossdisposablehouseholdincome/b­ulletins/regionalgrossdisposablehousehol­dincomegdhi/2015

    Of the NUTS1 regions in 2015, London had the highest GDHI per head where, on average, each person had £25,293 available to spend or save. Northern Ireland had the lowest at £15,913. This compares with a UK average of £19,106.

  • Yes, I read that. It's a 2015 census. Doesn't specifically highlight where, and actually shows growth in the NE.

    Comparisons to London are also pointless as I'm guessing, they flatline when you take living costs into consideration.

  • I can't link as it's a PDF but if you google 'ONS Regional gross disposable household
    income, UK: 1997 to 2016' it's the first result;

    'Of the NUTS1 regions in 2016, London had the highest GDHI per head where, on average, each person
    had £27,151 available to spend or save; the North East had the lowest at £15,595 and this compares with
    a UK average of £19,432.'

    'In terms of GDHI per head in 2016, all the top 10 NUTS3 local areas were in London or the South East
    NUTS1 regions; the bottom 10 were more widespread but were confined to the North West, Yorkshire and
    The Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands and Northern Ireland.'

    I live in Liverpool and I'm from Sheffield which are both in the bottom 10 for disposable income growth so I suppose I probably have a slightly skewed view; I'm writing from experience and opinion, not stating facts.

  • I don't think the business model of web sales delivered to your door, or other convenient location, is objectionable per se, but I do think the business practices of some of companies are.

    I don't think it's objectionable in principle, either. There will always be specialist goods that it wouldn't be worth a local shop's while to stock, which it is then appropriate to order from far away--although I do mourn a couple of shops that simply stocked everything. For instance, there used to be an electrical shop in Stamford Hill that was like that. It had a very old interior and was stuffed to the gunwhales with stock going back decades. The old boy who ran it seemed to be able to answer every question. Mine were usually very simple, but I also used to listen to others asking more difficult things while I waited. I always got exactly what I wanted there. That shop didn't close because of the Internet (it closed about 15 years ago, I think), but probably because he didn't find a successor before he retired. It's just so valuable to have experts like this locally.

    I agree, the business models of these massively-financed companies are just rotten. I think the vast majority of things should be available reasonably locally, and that that isn't like asking for the moon on a stick.

    Local distribution can be quite efficient in urban areas, especially compared to loads of people driving to out of town shopping centres.

    Yes, although interestingly, many out-of-town centres are not doing very well at the moment. It seems as if their business model has had its day in many cases.

    It's not so much that I can't find this stuff elsewhere (albeit less conveniently), it's the social interaction, the little bit of banter, bumping into friends and neighbours in the queue.

    The internet can't replace that.

    Absolutely.

  • Interesting, thanks. Yes, the short-sightedness of shopping at Amazon is annoying (until the day when it's your job that they destroy). Shame the Council weren't more supportive.

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The 'death of the High Street'

Posted by Avatar for Oliver Schick @Oliver Schick

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