Opinion – Support your High Street – Local retailers and small shops

Listening to Liz Pilgrim, a riot-hit small retailer from Ealing on BBC R4 tonight was an inspiration, providing a strident rallying call for support to the High Street.

Events of this past week have demonstrated that the UK High Street is hurting badly – in more ways than one. Shops in riot affected areas will have an uphill struggle to get their businesses back on track. Retailers everywhere are finding it hard work to make headway against strong and adverse economic headwinds.

If these local businesses are forced to leave their High Streets, it will be very hard, if not impossible, to open them again. Does that matter? Yes, I think it does. Those communities losing local traders are negatively impacted in a considerable way. We could all do much more to help – by stopping to think whether we can buy locally, by switching our purchasing from the internet to local shops (where possible) and from chain stores and supermarkets to the local trader. Yes, there’s often a price differential and I know that we all have time constraints but there is a positive social impact.

Some of you might say that it’s already too late. It’s not. You can make a real difference locally.

So much of retail in the UK is comprised of fairly small units and these outlets provide considerable levels of local employment in so many of our towns and cities. It cannot be all about Tesco’s and Debenhams.

Use local markets wherever possible as these too continue to help commercial life to thrive in our neighbourhoods and communities. Yes, it’s hard to do this but it’s also worthwhile. At the moment, any help for smaller retailers, and sole traders in particular, is very welcome.

 If you agree with this please post it elsewhere and let’s help bring more footfall to our High Streets. Do we really want to live in a homogenous world? Do we want all of retail life to move online? We all have to buy ‘stuff’. The only question is; where will we actually do our purchasing?

So go on – Support your own High Street. Support your local retailer. Support your small shops. Support your local Market. You might even enjoy yourself!

15 thoughts on “Opinion – Support your High Street – Local retailers and small shops

  1. One thing I do love is that I base my office in our local market and give time being part of the transformation there. There are now several eateries, including a cool coffee shop, middle-eastern cafe, and an oyster & champagne bar. There are, amongst all the the things you would expect, two hand-made jewellery people, organic butchers, a great deli, wooden toys, second hand and new books (3 different traders), vintage clothing, beer, art-collective and an artist-in-residence.

    We run a vintage flea market (with live music) every month for three days and are looking at doing a beer festival in there this autumn as well. The market has both a building-wide alcohol and entertainment license.

    It is lots of fun being based there.

  2. Couple of quick thoughts. Didn’t the Government increase the Employers NI contributions this year? That won’t help small traders. Also, it can be too late in some aspects. We sat and tried to work out whether we had an independent grocer anywhere locally where we could buy the basics – flour, sugar, tea, coffee etc – answer, no. There are independent greengrocers, butchers etc, but except in our local indoor market where they are close together, on the “High Streets” locally, they are often some distance apart.

    • Carole,
      Lol I know it’s not how you meant it to sound but the traders in your local indoor market are independents and are also part of the ‘high street’ – many indie traders have returned and are returning to a market venue because the cost of rents on ‘shops’ are so expensive and prohibitive.

      We really need to start moving back to the idea of using local markets and not frowning on them as sadly some do or seeing them as being something less than the shops – after all the market spaces used to be the hub of the community for a reason and they were also the place for the less advantaged as well as the better advantaged to come together even if only to shop together for a short while.

      I would love to see this thriving local community hub see a real renewal, a place of diversity where many gather and can get everything from the necessities to the luxuries, where young and old mix, gather, chat and move on feeling better for being part of a real and felt local community.

      My experience has been and still is that in these small market venues there is still a sense of community, the local market cafe’s are places of community and often great care for the lonely, old etc, the food stalls still places of local produce and often green commitment at a basic level and the other stalls can be places of small wonder too as Ian demonstrates- it’s great, yes support your local independent shops and traders, support your local market, support your local community.

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  4. Melanie, I agree with your feelings on markets and Durham has a brilliant Indoor Market (not as big as Lincoln’s), but where we live the nearest shops are 15 minutes walk away and not independents. The Market is a long walk or bus ride away. The town planners when our estate (the second largest private housing esate in Europe) was built made totally inadequate provision for shops, so lack of units as well as cost can be a problem. Their “answer” was a shopping centre on the edge of the estate built 40 years after the bulk of the estate, full of large units only affordable for supermarkets and multiples.

  5. Sadly this basically sums up most of the estate centres – it’s the same in lincoln – full of Tesco’s, Asda’s etc with no space now left for the indies and even if there was they can’t afford to compete these days.

    I guess part of the thing is we have also got used to convenience shopping, that is to say shopping more than once a week as we need stuff instead of the old idea of going out and doing your big shop.

    Things have changed, we changed them and only we can change them again through our actions or compliance. It’s an interesting thought isn’t it.

  6. … all the more challenging when you happen to work in one of the big supermarkets: do I support the company that gave me a job, that provides hundreds of other local people with jobs; or do I support the smaller shops, which between them all could never match the level of employment that the supermarket provides? Personally, I think there’s room for both: it’s a question of getting the right balance between the two…

    • Not quite true there Phil, if everyone used the small local shops and businesses actually the employment levels would be the same and/or higher than everyone using the supershops!
      Stats show that small/medium sized businesses are stil one of the largest groups of employers going 😉
      But I appreciate your position and that of many others too.

    • Hi Phil; here are the key figures for UK retail. (source: Dept for BIS);

      • UK retail sales are around £300bn, the 3rd largest in the world, after the USA and Japan.
      • The retail sector generates 8% of the GDP of the UK, and 5.2% of GVA.
      • The retail industry employs around 3m people. One in ten of those in employment currently work in the retail sector – the highest proportion of UK private sector employment.
      • Retail is the largest private sector employer in the UK with one in ten of the workforce working in retail.
      • There are 450,000 shops in the UK owned by 300,000 enterprises, including 9% (190,000) of all VAT-registered businesses.
      • Shops account for more than a third of consumer spending.
      • Despite being the third biggest casualty of the recession with over 6,000 insolvencies, the sector continues to grow.
      • The value of overseas shoppers in London is around £2bn p.a.
      • Despite strong growth in recent years, internet sales currently account for only around 7.5% of total sales.

      Make of all that what you will:)

      • ahh well – lets wade in with indie (ok small/medium business figures – so not always indies if I’m being honest) then, but they aren’t just to do with retail sector but to be honest when I talk about supporting local businesses and community it isn’t just abut supporting local shops 😉

        – There are 4.8 million small businesses in the UK (up from 4 million in 2003)
        – 3.6 million businesses are sole proprietors
        – 1.3 million are companies of which 747,000 have employees
        – 444,000 are partnerships
        – 97 per cent of firms employ less than 20 people
        – 95 per cent employ less than 5 people
        – Over 500,000 people start up their own business every year
        – Small and medium-sized firms employ more than 59.8 per cent of the private sector workforce
        – 22.8 million people work in small and medium-sized firms
        – Small firms contribute more than 49 per cent of the UK turnover
        – 64 per cent of commercial innovations come from small firms
        – Wholesale, Retail and Repairs was the biggest employer at the start of 2009
        – The 563,000 enterprises in this sector employed 4,853,000 people (21.3 per cent of all UK private sector employment)
        – Small enterprises alone (0 to 49 employees) accounted for 48.2 per cent of employment and 35.7 per cent of turnover
        – Small firms collect and pay Tax, NICs, VAT and other dues which help pay for public services
        Figures from the FSB but taken from the Oct.2010 Dept of Business Innovation & Skills Statistical Press Release.

        Like Eddie says, make of it what you will but I take it to mean that indies rock and sme’s rule 😛

        Also perhaps it might give courage to some out there wondering if they can start their own business.
        It’s not a light undertaking but it is something that thousands of people do each year and that can and does still work – despite all that’s said there is still hope out here, still money to be spent and employment to be made – even if it is as a sole trader, plan carefully and work hard and sometimes it really is worth it – I wouldn’t swap the last 5 years for anything and as of tomorrow I’m hoping for a whole host more years with a good bit of effort and a little luck and prayer! I’m also praying for others to go forward and make that step too.

        • “… as of tomorrow …” eh? Is tomorrow the day you finally pay off whatever loans you’ve needed? I remember you mentioning something about that recently 🙂

          Whatever, congratulations, well done and long may the Unicorn Tree grow, and may many Unicorns nest in its branches for many years to come! (I assume that everyone knows that Unicorns are a tree-nesting species? How they actually get in and out of the trees remains something of a mystery, in much the same way as the number of books that you can take out of a box frequently exceeds the number of books you can put back into it…)

          How about a post reflecting on those 5 years, please, charting the ups and downs, telling us some of the things you know now that you wish you’d known when you started out and maybe some suggestions on things to avoid? You could even make it a series of posts!

  7. Thanks Phil,

    As of today I have owned the bookshop for 5 full years, the loans were paid off last month so this really does see this point forward as a new mark!

    And the unicorns, if they do get into the tree get their by a process of assumption or a whirlwind grabs them and does it for them, because if they had wings to get up there to roost we’d be the pegasus tree and a bit more new age than we are 😉
    Normally the unicorn just nestles at the base of the tree with the chains to bind and hold it broken, or of course snuggled up to the fair maiden 😉

    As to something I know now – hmm if I’m honest it would that it’s always likely to be a bit harder than you think and by the same token it’s going to be a bit more fun than you expect as well – but the ride really is worth it at the end, even if at some points the dips and crazy sharp turns do leave you feeling a bit green and nauseous, at that point best just to let go of the safety bar, raise your hands in the air and scream out loud as you shout to the Lord, God Help Me!

    • Ah, Melanie: didn’t you know that Unicorns are the source of Pegasus’ magic? … and behind it all, of course, the most powerful magic of all, that even the dark lord can never defeat: love 🙂

  8. The marvels of the UK Christian Bookshop blog – from review of government statistics to the truth about unicorns and winged horses nesting habits in one easy swoop…….

    Well done and best wishes on successfully completing your five years in business, Melanie!

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