The future is local

The Argus: Empty Shops Network founder Dan Thompson Empty Shops Network founder Dan Thompson

As the number of empty shops in our town centres reaches an all-time high, it’s easy to believe that the high street is dead.

We know because Mary Portas has told us. In her review for the Government, she said: “The days of a high street populated simply by independent butchers, bakers and candlestick makers are over.”

Well, Mary – Tony Benn once said: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?”

Who gave Mary the power to tell us our high street is dead? And who wants us to believe that?

The big four threats to local, independent shops are shopping centres, big internet companies, supermarkets and out of town developments. They all benefit if we believe the high street is dead. It gives them a green light for out-of-town development, tax-free imports and big box stores.

Sussex success

But how do we explain Bill’s Produce which has gone from Lewes to open in Brighton, Cardiff, Covent Garden, Exeter, Islington, Reading, Richmond, Soho and Wimbledon?

Or the Toy Barnhaus, started by ex-Woolworths staff and kitted out with ex-Woolworths shopfittings and now with stores in Crawley, Croydon, Epsom, Redhill and Worthing?

Or the three Bert’s Homestores in Brighton and Hove, which looks very much like the next Habitat.

In Brighton Square, a dozen young people have been working with two national charities, vInspired and Retail Trust, to open a pop up shop, Make Away, which screenprints T-shirts as customers come in and order them. It has been such a success in its pop up home that the team are considering it as a full-time business.

In 2011 there were 2,500 more independent shops opened than were closed down. The retail industry employs around 3million people, one in ten of those in employment. And there are still 450,000 shops in the UK.

Independents are on the rise, taking over the spaces big business leaves behind. It’s a pattern that we’ve seen before.

The only reason North Laine is the quirky, distinctive place we know today is because 30 years ago, the big stores moved out. Komedia used to be a Tesco.

The evidence shows that the high street isn’t dead, even if some people would like us to believe it is. The future’s local.

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