Monday, 29 August 2011

Support your local ......

Up the alley on the left
What are your views on local, independent retailers? It struck me again the other day, that apart from the Hockley area, the centre of Nottingham seems to have very few of them left. In my area of West Bridgford, we lost our one independent bookseller last year.

Two things have made me think again about the place of local, independent retailers. A few months ago another Tesco Express shop opened, this time on Maid Marian Way, and in the last ten days, a new Sainsbury's Local opened on the edge of the Lace Market, just a few yards away from another Tesco.

The second thing that made me think was a visit to the Classical CD Music Shop on High Pavement, just opposite the Pitcher & Piano Pub. I'd set aside a few pounds to buy some Chopin music, and for that money I was delighted to come away with three CD's, at very reasonable prices, which I'm playing as I'm typing this. One of the CD's is Chopin's 24 Preludes, played by Arthur Rubinstein, which according to the man in the shop that I spoke to is the best interpretation of the Preludes in existence. That's why you should use local and independent shops - friendliness and knowledge of the subject.

I wonder how many people visiting Nottingham (or indeed live in Nottingham) and walking up and down High Pavement will know of this shop's existence? As can be seen from the picture above, it's situated down a none too pleasant alleyway, but at the end of September it will be moving a few hundred yards into the shopping area of Hockley. They also provide an Internet ordering service. I was pleased to hear that their future looked bright. This however is not the case with many local, independent retailers up and down the country in rural and urban areas.

The issue has been of concern for a number of years, but the problem has yet to be resolved, and around 2,000 local shops are still disappearing every year, with the British Retail Consortium saying that up to 12% of high street shops are currently vacant for a variety of reasons. In preparing this blog, I have read a number of interesting reports and campaign documents, such as 'The London Small Shops Study 2010';  the House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group report called, 'High Street Britain: 2015'; the Evening Standard's 'Save our Small Shops' campaign from 2007, and the Friends of the Earth campaign launched in the same year, 'Shop Local First'.

In support of independent retailers, The Independent Retailers Confederation says that they "provide added value which goes much wider than the purely economic. For example, small local shops allow many people to shop locally on foot, reducing carbon emissions created by driving to distant out-of-town stores; the services they provide are crucial to their local communities, often allowing the elderly to remain in their own homes rather than having to move to residential accommodation". To the Retail Enterprise Network, "small retailers are especially important to the disadvantaged consumer. In deprived areas where private and public transport links are poor, the local community relies on local shops to cater for their needs".

Friends of the Earth listed the following benefits;
  • Local shops are more likely to provide local food that hasn't been flown halfway across the world
  • Local shops offer a much m ore personal service than big supermarkets
  • Local shops keep money circulating in the local area, so they support other local businesses
  • Local shops and street markets often offer better value than bigger supermarkets for fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Local shops are more energy efficient than huge supermarkets
  • A diverse range of local shops provides more choice than the big supermarket
In addition, small shops can add distinctiveness to town centres. According to the Retail Enterprise Network, "On many of the UK's high streets they add diversity to what is becoming an increasingly bland retailing landscape for shoppers. Town centre are beginning to replicate each other with identical retail brands emerging in every major district". The British Consortium of Shopping Centres agrees with this, stating that niche retailers from premium to local value shops "add real colour to the retail landscape benefiting entire shopping places".

So there is a huge groundswell of support for the presence of local, independent shops in our communities. If this is the case, why are so many still struggling or going out of business? No doubt the reasons are many and complex, and Government studies, as well as independent ones focus on addressing some of these reasons.

Various investigations have tended to focus on;
  • planning
  • crime
  • retail competition from large chains
  • parking and transport
  • local taxes and rent
Keeping the giants out has been the decision of Rutland County Council, where they have refused a Sainsbury's planning application for a new store in Oakham. The leader of the Council says that he doesn't want this thriving market town to lose its local identity, and become a 'ghost town' like Grantham just twenty miles away. This is one way to address the issue. Ensuring that there are affordable rents for small outlets, and adequate, affordable parking are other ways. However, in all of the reports and campaigns I read, there is one thing that is rarely highlighted, or talked about in depth. It's as if its a given, and doesn't need mentioning. I'm talking about what retail analists call 'footfall'. That's people (you and me) actually visiting, and spending money at local, independent shops. If we don't, we have no right to lament their demise.

I understand that when money is tight, and budgets are small, that every penny counts, but perhaps there are times when believing in something necessitates small sacrifices. Some will remember a few years ago when Post Office's were under threat of closure, there was a well known slogan that went, "Use it or Lose it". It unfortunately didn't save that many Post Office's that were ear marked for closure, but the slogan's principle was correct. If we don't use local, independent shops, then there is the danger of losing them.

I've tended to use large retail outlets in the past for convenience, and much of the time for price. Quality has been a secondary consideration. Relying on public transport, and carrying heavy goods means that it's not always easy to 'shop around'. I understand the difficulty. But I don't want the 'Tescoisation' of our high streets, whether in city, town or village. I'm going to try my hardest to do as much shopping as posssible in my local, independent shops. These will have to provide goods that have quality, and are by and large reasonably priced (even if a bit dearer than the chains). The shops should offer a friendly and knowledgable service, for if they don't, why should anyone go to them?

Let's join with those who buck the trend, and "Support your local ......", and save our small shops.

1 comment:

  1. Close to my heart too, John. Of course the bottom line invariably is cost - we can make all sorts of excuses such as the recession etc. but in the end people will take the easy option and go where it is cheapest - and supermarkets etc. know this.The worrying thing is that as you get older and perhaps need the convenience of the local shop they become more important to you.
    I'm glad to read about Classical CD - I did know of it but haven't been so your comments are very timely. I shall visit! For a number of years Classic CD was on Angel Row opposite the library and was excellent but it closed a couple of years ago. I'll have to look up this new venture.