It is all getting too much! The final straw was going into my local Blockbusters yesterday evening and finding nothing left but a sign informing me that the store was to close and that everything was being sold off. This is truly life-changing.
I always manage to miss films at the cinema or do not think a film is going to be any good until it is too late. That is why Blockbusters is – was – great for me. It is also the traditional first weekend of a holiday, going in and catching up on all the releases I have not seen. In the same way that I do not like Amazon, I am not a fan of all the on-line film-hire places and cannot get a feel for a film from a review on tablet screen. Nor do I have the internet, so cannot make use of all the modern ways of watching films – I liked Blockbusters.
This is, of course, part of the wider problem of the evolving (or dying, depending where your political affiliations lie) high street. Although Woolworth’s demise was historic, I do not think I fully realised the significance of the changes taking place. It was not only that I now could not go in and find pick ‘n’ mix or the fabulously rare and out of print CD from an obscure artist, let alone the enormous box games that made nephews’ and nieces’ faces light up when they were young (best last-minute present shop ever!). More importantly, it was taking away the choice we had of where to shop and spend our money.
I do not support WH Smith because their customer service is shabby, and that will not change just because it still exists (just), but I miss the choice of wasting a morning looking at physical examples of goods and not simply their pictures on a screen. British Bookstores; JJB Sport; Borders; Oddbins; Focus; Habitat; Barratt’s; MFI; Past Times; Allders. These are but a few I recognise from a vast list now no longer with us. And their replacements? A collection of short-term lease outlets (for rubbish, mostly) or charity shops. In Southsea, Woolworth's has been converted into one of the dullest libraries I have ever seen, whilst five other units on Palmerston Road stand empty.
Not that store failure is a new phenomenon, but I think the number of failures over the last three years has taken me by surprise. When I was still living in Manchester, there was an iconic store in the city centre, “Lewis’s” (nothing to do with the John Lewis partnership). It towered over the top of Market Street and we would all be taken by or parents to see the Christmas window unveiled in November each year. It was the place for fashion and to be seen. When, in the 90s, it hit hard times in the face of stiff opposition, it closed its doors and I remember much praise being given to the shop’s manager, who refused to let the local cameras in to film the last day. He wanted us to remember the best and not the worst of Lewis’s. Cruelly, it was replaced by Primark – could there have been more of a contrast?
Of course, I am not in any way anti-progress. However, in the same way that farmers’ markets are reporting a surge in sales due to the horse meat “scare”, we should be acting to help the dying high street simply because what is replacing it is not as good. There will always be a need for one-off, bespoke shops, small chains or specialist retailers. These should not be priced out by the lower commercial rates the charity stores receive, nor should small businesses have to pay the corporation and VAT taxes that charities do not. In times of need, we need to help local businesses.
For now, I will have to make a renewed effort to get to the cinema in time for the releases. Either that, or give in and get on-line!