Shops fall because we abandon them

THE cartoon said it all: “Prices slashed - while shops last.”The post-Christmas sales frenzy has always been a bizarre phenomenon.

Aidan Semmens

THE cartoon said it all: “Prices slashed - while shops last.”

The post-Christmas sales frenzy has always been a bizarre phenomenon. A triumph for the collective mania that fuels capitalism - the elevation of price over value, the fetishistic desire for a “bargain”.

This time round the mania has been inflated by a sense of impending doom. A desire to raid the shops before they disappear forever. An impulse not unlike the urge that drives looters in a catastrophe.

And with all that comes, I suppose, a sense of history in the making and an unspoken desire to take part in it.

Exactly how historic current events prove to be is not for us to see or judge just yet, of course. But it seems a dead cert that 2009 will see a lot of familiar high-street names disappear.

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And with that, possibly, could come a deep and lasting change not just in the nature of the high street, but ultimately in the nature of towns themselves.

It would give me some pleasure to see the out-of-town supermarkets go to the wall, but I fear that as ever it will be the small independent traders who end up suffering most.

When Napoleon said famously, and scornfully, that England was a nation of shopkeepers it was far from the truth. At that point. It became truer later.

But really what we have been is a nation of shopworkers. What we are about to become is a nation of former shopworkers. Hopefully, not all unemployed.

There's a slight nostalgic sadness associated with the demise of Woolworth's. It has at least been a supporter of high street business against the ghastly out-of-towners.

In many small towns, such as Woodbridge, it has long been the only place to buy some of the basic natural commodities of life. Its disappearance will leave a gap which I hope the local traders will be able to fill to their own benefit.

But if Woolies is a loss, I can't find it in me to regret the demise of Zavvi.

For one thing it hasn't been around long enough as a brand to attract much loyalty. And for another - well, the writing was on the wall for the traditional record shop since long before that name came into being.

I suppose it was the history thing that drew me over the threshold of the Zavvi store in Tavern Street on Boxing Day. Well, I happened to be passing (on my way to the footy - of which, enough said already). And while I may criticise the strumpet appeal of commerce, I'm not altogether immune to it.

The one thing which has always brought out the compulsive purchaser in me is music. But even on the opening day of the great closing-down sale I couldn't find a thing that tempted me to part with my cash.

Not that there aren't 101 titles itching to add themselves to my already bloated CD collection. Just that I already try to ration my online buying and nothing even in Zavvi's death-throes looked better value than I expect to get without leaving my keyboard.

Which is exactly why the record store was dead in the water long before credit came to the crunch.

Most people just don't buy their music that way any more. Which may have been a factor in Woolies' fall and will surely see other old-fashioned record retailers go down the tubes soon.

Actually, apart from food - which I buy as locally as I can and almost all on foot - I hardly buy anything in conventional shops any more.

The internet is simply too convenient, too reliable. Almost everything is available somewhere online and you can compare products and consider their possible pitfalls without having to brave the blather of some in-store "assistant".

I may not be totally typical in this attitude, but it's becoming more common. And that means we shouldn't really weep too much over the collapse of shops.

It's us what done it. We just didn't like shopping enough.

And the result, I suggest, isn't entirely a bad thing.

As long as all my lovely local food shops - the real ones, owned and run by local people - survive and prosper.

It's official - I'm a 'character':

I SET foot in several countries in 2008, but perhaps my strangest encounter took place within a short walk of home.

The station platform was bubbly with a classful of visiting Spanish teenagers. As we waited for the London train I was approached by a delightfully smiling girl of about 14 or 15.

She was gesturing towards her camera and I assumed she wanted me to take a picture of her with some of her friends. But no. What she wanted was a picture of herself - with me.

I don't suppose my fame as an Evening Star columnist has reached Spain. So I can only assume my appearance (long beard, floppy hat) is now so quaint that I have become a “character” to be collected.

Oh well. I've taken enough pics of strangers myself on my travels that I suppose I can't really complain. Now I know what it feels like.