A cautionary tale…

…copied over from a post I wrote elsewhere:

Earlier this week, I was further down the West Country with Elder Daughter for a couple of days. We’d planned to do some serious walking, but the weather was foul on the first day, so we visited some new-to-her towns instead, and bought some bits & bobs for our respective market stalls/online shop. The first town we visited was one I knew well as a child & teenager, back in the Dark Ages. It used to be very posh & prosperous, with a long twisty high street wending its way down a steep hill; my grandfather’s tailor was at the top and his cobbler/bootmaker halfway down. It’s very different now.

A big modern shopping development has been built alongside the High Street. It has several stories of car parking, topped by two more of big High Street “names” – all the biggies are there, in large, clean modern units. It was hardly bustling but there were plenty of people wandering aimlessly about, a few toting branded bags. And it’s completely sucked the life out of the old High Street; every second little shop was empty, and there were beggars sitting in the doorways, empty hats on the pavement, staring hopelessly out, poor souls. Hardly anyone was passing that way to see them.

Admittedly the big local industry has also withered away and died, but it was very clear that the shopping centre had completely replaced the High Street for day-to-day stuff. So all the money spent in that town is draining away to shareholders in London & further afield, instead of helping local people prosper. If it’s anything like this little town, the advent of the shopping centre will have pushed up the High Street rents beyond anything a genuine local small business start-up can afford, too. Although there were some very good bargains in the two local charity shops we eventually stumbled across, shopping in that town was a depressing & draining experience.

We then visited two smaller towns nearby, also favourite haunts of my youth. The only big name shops were those that had been there for many years, in little eccentric premises with tiled doorways and uneven floors. Both towns were bustling, with people carrying baskets or pulling trolleys, cheerily greeting each other and stopping to chat or go for a cuppa in one of the pretty little independent, reasonably-priced cafes. We found some excellent bargains and enjoyed our time there hugely.

Next day, after a bracing walk on the coastal path, we called in to a little seaside town that has attracted a lot of attention from a TV chef. We found the interesting-looking little shops clustered around the harbour were nearly all branches of big-name clothes shops, exactly the same ones that infest our own small but upmarket town. We were actually looking for a butchers or (sensible) fishmongers, but the lass in the tiny convenience store told us that “the big T&sco up top of the hill” had “done for” anything like that. So most of the money being spent there by the hordes of wealthy tourists who flock to this town is draining straight off upcountry again, and the locals have virtually no choice where to buy their groceries any longer. And their money is also trickling away from their community.

The moral of this story being, if you are lucky enough to still have small family-run shops where you are, please support them, even if things cost a little bit more. That’s your own friends & neighbours you’re supporting.  And if you have any say in these matters, resist the siren voices that tell you that big new shopping centres & supermarkets will attract more business; maybe they will, but only to themselves.

A stormy Cornish dusk…

6 thoughts on “A cautionary tale…

  1. M Stevens January 17, 2015 / 9:29 am

    Great post, I know exactly what you mean. I love your picture it reminds me of when I went to Wales. I live in Devon, and have many a happy holiday spent in Cornwall.

    • thriftwizard January 18, 2015 / 1:17 pm

      I grew up on the western edge of Devon; it seems impossible for my kids to believe we used to go just 20 miles for our holidays! But it IS a complete change of scenery and we all love both areas to this day. It’s sad to see over-commercialisation ruin a lovely town, but hopefully one day the tables will turn & people will find the time to shop carefully & make every penny count.

  2. Patricia Ellingford (Pattypan) January 18, 2015 / 1:08 pm

    Hear Hear

    I live in a City that is dominated by the big names – they have their place but quite frequently because it is all the same things that are sold. We frequently go out of town to smaller market towns and to their interesting higgledy piggledy shops that sell something we actually want or a proper market. (We normally go to Stamford). They call it progress but it isn’t it just drains the life out of everything in the vicinity.

    We have recently had a small pie shop opened it is not a big concern but it makes lovely tasty pies (The Brampton Pie Company). What is lovely though is that they are being used and when they sell out they close the shop but its nice that they are a success.


    • thriftwizard January 18, 2015 / 1:19 pm

      That’s good to hear, Pattypan, I used to work in a bakery, many many years ago & far away; our aim was always to run out by 3.30pm. That meant there was no wastage but hardly anyone would be disappointed; all the regular customers knew to come before then, and if they were late, they’d have to take pot-luck.

  3. Tracy January 19, 2015 / 2:12 pm

    It’s sad when the heart of a town is pulled away by our need for ease of shopping and us thinking we are getting a bargain. The only thing that attracts me to the big supermarkets is the ease of parking. IF I can get parking in the town centre then I much prefer to spend an afternoon ambling through all the local shops, chatting with people and stopping for coffee. I am lucky, I live in a provincial town that has nice mix of large nationals and small private shops and business. In fact aside from grocery (town outskirts) and telecommunications every other shop/business is an independent or small family run one. And local business here knows how important it is to support each other, we are all customers and suppliers to each other…just the way it should be. We need to keep our local economies local.

  4. Jane January 24, 2015 / 2:28 pm

    I originally come from Elgin on the north east coast of Scotland and when I was young Saturdays in town were the highlight of the week… there were so many little interesting shops and in the centre of town a large church surrounded by paving area and seats where the young and trendy would ‘parade’ in the hope that the young and trendy of the opposite sex would notice. The town was alive and thriving. Nowadays there are very few shops left… mostly charity shops and those that remain are looking sad and run down… in New Elgin on the outskirts of town there is a couple of huge supermarkets and a few other outlet type stores… it seems that they lured all the shoppers away… I have no idea where the young folk go to meet up with their friends now… ‘facebook’ probably. I am not averse to change and progress but we certainly have lost something.

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