Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday, 10 November 2008

Coming to a High Street near you...

A warning this week from PwC that high streets may become ghost towns (all together now - This tow-own.....) as the recession hits chain stores. The shiny new malls opening round the country will only exacerbate the problem as retailers fight for the best locations in a game of retail musical chairs.

While those who have money to spend will be happily strolling round the air-conditioned temples of conspicuous consumption, what will happen to the poor neglected high street, exposed to the elements and the traffic? Last time, it was the coffee shops which moved in to fill the void, as we became a nation of latte drinkers delightedly emulating the transatlantic chic of Friends and Sex in the City - albeit in slightly less glamorous surroundings.

This time, PwC say nothing is waiting in the wings, but a saunter through the local neighbourhood tells a different story. Where once there was a thriving collection of independent retailers of everything from furnishing fabrics to photography, we now have the dubious benefits of two fast food joints, a betting shop and a pawnbrokers - well it is Newgate, after all! - and a sign announcing the arrival of another gambling establishment.

The public-spirited Tessa Jowell (she of the super-casinos and cafe-culture licensing hours) once said that to object to gambling because of its impact on the poor carried a 'whiff of snobbery' - but who apart from the poor ever ended up in Newgate Prison for debt?

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