Friday, 3 April 2015

Death Of A High Street

Many High Streets have seen a large number of shop closures over the last couple of years, with some towns suffering more severely than others.

In some cases, closures have been the result of the demise of whole shopping chains, whilst others have been due to localised closures, where retailers have had to reduce store numbers to avoid total collapse.

I’ve visited some High Streets and shopping centres that appear to be holding up quite well, but others are ghosts of their former selves. One in particular that falls into the latter category is Chatham in Kent.

I was born and bred in Medway, having lived in various locations around the towns, often using Chatham as a place to shop. Although I have now moved out of the Medway area, I have made a couple of recent trips back to Chatham High Street when visiting relatives and can’t believe the change in the place.

As a child I loved to go and spend my birthday and pocket money in the town. There were some great toy shops (Youngsters and Gees) in the town and lots of big High Street stores such as Marks and Spencer, Woolworths, British Home Stores (as it then was), Co-op and Featherstones.

In the 1970s the Pentagon shopping centre opened (I remember going there to see the Wombles turn up for the official opening) and some of the stores from the High Street, such as WHSmith and Boots moved inside, as well as new shops arriving such as C&A and Etam.

Today both the High Street and Pentagon shopping centre are shadows of their former selves. Marks and Spencer and the now rebranded BHS moved out years ago and of course, Woolworths disappeared from all of our High Streets, but what is more concerning is the number of other retailers that have pulled out of the town, seemingly making it their first choice of towns from which to withdraw.

In light of the news that Tesco needed to close a large number of stores, Chatham was put on the hit list. Now WHSmith have also announced they’re shutting up shop and rumours are flying about who else is set to go.

Over the years national chains such as Next, Peacocks, Mothercare, HMV and The Early Learning Centre have, one by one, left the town, although all still exist in nearby Maidstone.

The only new shops that seem to be opening in the town are pound stores. Poundland, 99p Stores, Poundworld, The Mighty Pound, Around-a-pound – talk about in for a pound! Now whilst these shops may have their place, there are a hell of a lot of things you can’t buy in them and not all of us want to shop in them. It seems the more that the council allow these shops (along with betting shops, pawnbrokers and dubious ‘market-stall’ type shops) move into the town, the more the long-standing stores decide to leave. I always thought councils looked carefully at the balance of shops in a town, limiting numbers of any one type of shop, to maintain diversity.

shops are packing
up and going!
There was a time when people would have travelled to the town from all around Kent because of the great selection of shops on offer. Now the choices are miserable, the town looks dowdy and people not only don’t visit there to shop anymore, but even locals choose to travel elsewhere.

The decline of the town’s High Street is very sad and is largely due, I feel, to bad town management. It will take something miraculous to revive this dismal High Street.

How are High Streets near you holding up?

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