The High Street is dead! Long live the High Street!
And why is the number 14 haunting your author?
High Street, definition OED
Meaning: Place you end up when you get lost.
The imminent, inevitable, incontrovertible demise of the UK High Street has been written about many times in recent years. So much so, that I have never really thought it worthwhile to put together a piece on a subject that is well travelled ground. Hardly a week goes by without another old established department store group or celebrity chef chain throwing itself at the mercy of its creditors by attempting to downsize and restructure through the Administration or Company Voluntary Arrangement insolvency processes, resulting in closed outlets and job losses.
Well that was until earlier this month [the same month that saw the demise of Woolworths 10 years ago] when I started to see the number 14 combined with the words High Street everywhere.
Let me explain.
At the beginning of the month, one of the “Big Four” accountancy firms came forward with a report showing that High Street shops were closing at the rate of 14 per day in the UK’s top 500 High Streets. The gap between closures and openings has widened to a record level, but it is suggested that closures may have stabilised. The reasons for the decline are well known:
• On-line shopping
• Digitisation of services
• Preference for in-home leisure
• Overcapacity in certain sectors
• Out of town stores
In the recent past, we have had High Street Czars [or was it a Czarina] appointed by the Government seeking to explain and address the issue and we have had, what some commentators rather unkindly refer to as “tinkering at the edges” of the problem, by the Government who rather belatedly have announced rate reforms and reliefs for smaller retailers which may slow, but will not halt the decline.
A few days later, I then saw another headline with the number 14 and the words High Street in it.
This time the report related to the High Street in Christchurch Dorset which, in a 500 yard stretch managed to contain 14 coffee shops. Yes that’s right, 14 of them, about one over 35 yards. Exactly how much coffee do the residents of Christchurch drink-how hyperactive a population does it have? Nevermind Las Vegas, surely it’s Christchurch which is the town that never sleeps!
The report highlighted the fact that 3.4 coffee shops are currently opening every day in UK High Streets. Sustainable or desirable, no on both counts as far as I am concerned, but it got me thinking about the state of the High Street I knew as a child.
My home town is a place of about 10,000 souls in the North East of England. I left many years ago to work and reside in the South of England. Now when I was 14 [fortunately there are no surviving pictures of me in my home made loons and tank top] the High Street was the only place to go to buy anything. There were no “out-of-town” developments and that great boon/bane, the internet, was yet to even make it onto the drawing board. So how has the High Street of my youth changed over the years? I thought I better do a survey. Armed with my old mum and her elephant memory together with those clever people at Google Maps, I have made the following findings.
The High Street still has a butcher, baker and pub, but as you will see below, not as many as it once had. At a guess, I would say that little seems to have changed in terms of the number of outlets, but the mix is very different. Let’s take a look:
|Shops/Outlets lost||Shops/Outlets gained|
|Fish & Chip shop||1||Takeaways||5|
|Banks [none left in town]||2||Tanning salon||1|
Yes, there it is again, that number 14.
In microcosm, my home town High Street, to a large extent, mirrors the High Streets up and down the land. They are still there, but they provide additional services/products that many of us do not associate with a typical High Street. Of course I cannot recall, but I suspect that, at some time or other, I went into all of the lost shops all those years ago. Of the shops gained, I really doubt that I would frequent any.
Lifestyles have changed, not the High Street.
So, I do not see the imminent, inevitable, incontrovertible demise of the UK High Street. I recognise a shift in how people live their lives and how they use that unique amenity-the High Street. But look out for those headlines towards the end of January, when yet more household retail names crash and burn.