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What will happen to our towns if we all shop online?

(140 Posts)
Kali2 Thu 13-Jan-22 20:25:48

This is not meant to criticise those who choose to shop on line, And I totally get that Covid has encouraged so many more to do so.

But what then? Shops are closing, pubs are closing, independent cafés and restaurants are replaced by chains. Charity shops multiply.

Are we truly happy, or at least unconcerned- that our town centres are slowly dying? One of the things we love about our lovely market town, is the independent shops and cafés, the ironmongers, the butchers and fish shop, fruit and veg. Covid has been a disaster- if we don't return in person- that will be the final nail in their coffin.

And I for one will misss them for sure. Won't you?

MerylStreep Fri 14-Jan-22 08:10:17

Our town started a long term regeneration program at least 2 years before covid came along.
Planning permission has gone in to convert the Debenhams store into apartments.
Every council in the country should have been aware of the change in spending a long time ago.

TerriBull Fri 14-Jan-22 08:12:01

Yes I would use Amazon for items that aren't easily available and waste too much time trying to find in a shop

eazybee Fri 14-Jan-22 08:14:06

It is happening already; my local town centre is like a ghost town, with the closure of so many shops. A redevelopment complex was planned with cinemas and cafes but appears to have died; many shops closed preparatory to this and the departure of the Department store and Marks and Spencer has dealt the death blow. The parking charges are high.
By contrast, the local market town is flourishing, with greengrocers, butchers, bread shops, cookware and a book shop and a good range of clothes and shoe shops and a chemist, plus parking at 80p for three hours!
The only disadvantage is I can't reach it by bus.

Galaxy Fri 14-Jan-22 08:16:16

I agree Meryl Streep lots of councils are planning in that way, dh works indirectly in regeneration and most of the councils he works with are operating in the way you describe.

JaneJudge Fri 14-Jan-22 08:25:29

I think they should have stopped charging for parking, at least away from main railway parking.

Grammaretto Fri 14-Jan-22 08:27:36

I am quite envious of your, still busy, Market Town centres, Calendargirl and others
Ours lost its independent butcher, baker, fishshop and, greengrocers many years ago. Shoe, clothes and book shops are long gone.
3 out of 4 banks have shut their doors.

Instead there are now houses, cafes, hairdressers, estate agents, tanning, vape and tattoo parlours, charity shops and a couple of supermarkets and small chains.

The post office is still busy as it operates like a bank and is the place to return all your unwanted on-line parcels!
3 pharmacies manage to survive all the antidepressants

To try to buck the trend, our Community Development Trust and another community organisation have managed to buy premises and have 2 excellent businesses including a stationers and museum, a bicycle repair shop, a re-makery, a tool library, a storehouse which sells from best local food, 2nd hand books and also runs a community hub.
These are dependant on volunteer labour, like the charity shops but also support some paid staff.
There is also a food bank and community fridge.

Our nearest city of Edinburgh's main shopping Street, Princes Street has taken some serious blows with most of the big names moving out leaving tatty, boarded up sections with not much hope of recovery.

I have watched this transition with fascination. The next thing I'd like to see is carparks becoming public parks and gardens as they once were.

I don't know if it is recovery but it is change certainly.

DillytheGardener Fri 14-Jan-22 08:32:05

My local shops don’t stock decent veg/meat, so I buy all that online with orders direct from the farm, supporting the farmers.
I buy my clothes online, as the nearest town with the shops I like has expensive parking.
Everything else I get delivered from the supermarket or Sainsbury’s.
One thing that would make shops more attractive is if you could return online purchases in store. If that were the case It would encourage me to pop in to exchange items and possibly buy more. The only store that has let me do that was All Saints which let me swap a wallet for DH and I ended up buying a load more.
With all I have on, juggling several freelance jobs, caring for mil and keeping the house, online shopping is the only way I can shop these days unfortunately.

Doodledog Fri 14-Jan-22 08:38:10

I'm not sure I understand why people won't pay for parking but are happy to pay postage and packing charges to get items delivered, particularly when they are the same people who are complaining about the death of the high street.

My local council brought in parking charges a while ago. they were 30p, yet people were furious, and claimed to be travelling to different towns or out of town retail parks where the oaring was free. it would have cost more in petrol to do this, so it always struck me as cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

Most towns now have new build housing estates on the outskirts. I think that this is a cause of a lot of congestion in town centres, and leads to a need for parking charges. If the council subsidised buses (in this area free bus passes are not available to those under 66) from the outlying estates they would reduce the demand for parking. That would also mean that there could be designated spaces for those unable to get around even with a bus.

It is, IMO, very short sighted to make policies on the assumption that everyone has a car, and that everyone wants to use it for relatively short journeys. It would be better for the environment, and for congestion, as well as for local economies, loneliness, employment and all sorts of things if people could more easily get from one small town to another, and to town centres from outlying estates and villages without taking a car.

TerriBull Fri 14-Jan-22 08:43:55

Parking charges can be extortionate, I'll pay for longer visits but usually take advantage of Sainsbury and Waitrose, minimum £10 spend 2 hours free parking, enough time to go round the town too.

Kathy73 Fri 14-Jan-22 08:49:52

I thought you lived in Austria or Switzerland, Kali2, or am I mixing you up with someone else?

MerylStreep Fri 14-Jan-22 08:53:38

Your not wrong. Kali2 does live in Switzerland.

M0nica Fri 14-Jan-22 08:55:37

Do not dis coffee shops and the like. One of my local shopping towns has been revitalised by having a coffee shop 'quarter.

The centre of the town was gutted in the 1960 and the previous main shopping street, was demolished and replaced with a 'modern' (1960s) small pedestrianised shopping precinct. It was unattractive, to put it politely. This has had an exterior revamp. it runs into the market square, which is gorgeous with a magnificant 18th century town hall.

Round the market square and the start of this street, a whole host of coffee shops and restaurants with outdoor seating have opened up, all the usual suspects plus independents, They are always occupied and it gives the area a real buzz, lots of people around, chatting and laughing. In recent years a lot of the small industrial areas, builders and the like that always clustered around old town centres have been demolished and replaced by housing, and more shops have opened in peripheral areas, I think the rents in the 1960s centren are still too high and the shopping mix not yet right but the coffee shops have changed the whole feel of the area for the good.

Doodledog Fri 14-Jan-22 09:06:39

My town has a lot of coffee shops too. People moan when a new one opens, but on the whole they are full, and help towards giving the place a community feel.

They are great for older people, and for parents dropping off children at school, but not great for a lot of people between school age and retirement - there should be more for this group, IMO, and it should not depend on having disposable income or necessarily involve alcohol.

We used to have a cinema, for instance, but that has closed. Things like that would be ideal for younger teens who are too young to go out of town, but want somewhere to go in the evenings. Many years ago we had a bowling alley, but that died when a large complex was built out of town. Again, a good place for families and older children has gone. Bungalows for older people have been built on the outskirts, but day centres and so on are daily focussed on the town centre, so les fit older people without cars can find access difficult.

I do feel that more imagination is needed to make town centres thrive. If we keep clinging to the idea that they have to be for shopping, they will continue to decay, but if they become more accessible and attractive to people who can use them, they have a chance of survival in a way that could enrich the lives of the residents.

Doodledog Fri 14-Jan-22 09:08:22

daily focussed? I typed 'usually focussed'. Another Autocratic Autocorrect Aberration!

MerylStreep Fri 14-Jan-22 09:25:04

When our BHS shut some of us had ideas for a drop in / advice / community centre. Unfortunately Primark had other ideas.
I completely understand that our council need the money coming in from such stores.

Doodledog Fri 14-Jan-22 09:28:56

They do, as things stand, which is why I think that national government needs to take a role in discussions about how councils are funded. We need a completely different approach, I think. There could still be retail outlets, but sooner or later they are going to disappear, so we may as well plan for that now, rather than wait until things are in terminal decline.

Oldnproud Fri 14-Jan-22 09:53:44

I am puzzled by a move taken in one of our nearer towns just prior to Covid.

For many years, I had said that it was amazing how well this small, compact town survived - despite changing and losing many shops over time, as has happened everywhere - and put it down to the plentiful, free, three- hour parking.

Then suddenly, the Council decided to reduce the time you can stay in most car parks from three hours to two.

Like lots of people, I used to go there once a week - eight miles each way - and combine both the weekly grocery shopping in one of the three large supermarkets, all within short walking distance of each other, with a visit to one of the many cafes and the charity shops, amongst other things. It's not possible to do all those things in two hours, so I stopped going.

I know many people have inadvertantly over-run the time while legitimately using the town's businesses.

It's not the sort of place you would go to for the sake of it, so those three hours were three hours of putting money into shop tills, and I really can't imagine why the Council has done this. It's bound to have prompted more people to shop online!

Doodledog Fri 14-Jan-22 09:58:35

Even if they pay more for postage than they would pay for parking?

As I say, I've never understood this, but I don't drive and I live in the town centre, so it's not an issue for me.

Jaxjacky Fri 14-Jan-22 10:05:57

Doodledog the vast majority of my shopping is done and I’ve never had to pay for the few returns I’ve made, the cost may be included in their pricing, I suppose it depends which retailers you use

Kali2 Fri 14-Jan-22 11:20:25


I thought you lived in Austria or Switzerland, Kali2, or am I mixing you up with someone else?

I live in Switzerland indeed. But lived in the UK for 40 years, and still have very strong links. And an appartment where we come (not as much last 2 years due to Covid- but still managed 2 long visits last year) regularly, in a small Midlands market town. So many great, varied, independent shops and cafés, a great market, with special days (antiques on Sundays)... meat, fruit, veg, clothes, haberdashers, hardware, local crafts, etc. Also great butchers, fishmongers and bakers. The Baker shop near us makes all their own bread and cakes, and on days before Christmas, the queue was about 30-40 people!

I love it. And yet, at least 4 good stores closed last year- and either not replaced or replaced with more of the same, and yet more cafés. As said above, we only go to independent cafés now- and no longer to Nero, Costa or Starbucks, etc- to support local people.

I so hope our town centres will bounce back after Covid- and that the majority will support this.

MayBeMaw Fri 14-Jan-22 12:34:41

As you divide your time between both countries Kali2 - what is the situation in Switzerland?
I think that in the U.K. it can often also depend on the proximity (or not) of larger centres. In the East Midlands you would be (presumably) not too far, but far enough from cities like Leicester ( or Coventry?)
That can suck the lifeblood out of regional market town centres - like Bedford- when the major retailers need to rationalise.
But I am always happy to see coffee shops as they are always be preferable to the plethora of estate agents and solicitors who seem to hog the best town centre sites.

Calistemon Fri 14-Jan-22 12:41:28

But I am always happy to see coffee shops as they are always be preferable to the plethora of estate agents and solicitors who seem to hog the best town centre sites
Dont forget the charity shops!
They provide an excellent service but when all that are left are estate agents, charity shops, hairdressers, nail bars, coffee shops and not much else then it's no wonder people shop elsewhere.

Calendargirl Fri 14-Jan-22 13:23:04

Should all the empty Debenhams, M&S, BHS stores be turned into affordable apartments and flats? Even if there aren’t many shops left, it would serve a useful purpose.

Kali2 Fri 14-Jan-22 13:25:04

Towns and cities have all been affected by Covid, in most countries. I try not to compare on GN, but since you ask. European cities have never been 'shopping/business' only- but always kept their inner city populations. They learnt from the terrible mistakes of early industrialisation in England, sadly. The Bourgeois stayed in towns, and sent industry and the poor to the suburbs, exactly the opposite.

So, no, on-line shopping has not really caught on in Europe, as it has in UK, and town centres are still bustling- even when hit with Covid. Will it be a new tourist thing- to go and visit cities in Europe to experience this. ?

A bit like the thread on antiques and brown furniture- I think they will be missed when they are gone.

Kali2 Fri 14-Jan-22 13:27:13

Town centres in Europe have never been taken over, at least not to the same extent, by 'chains' - be they cafés, restaurants or shops.