I have been travelling around the UK for decades for work and have witnessed the steady erosion of individuality in high streets from Truro to Aberdeen. One by one traders with family businesses have been forced out by the spending power of the bigger companies, to the extent that now every high street has exactly the same mix of outlets and is indistinguishable one from the other. The butchers, fishmongers, haberdashers, bakers and hardware shops have all been displaced either by supermarkets or chain stores. And it is, of course, our fault. We all shop where the goods are cheaper, very sensibly most would suggest. But then we have to accept the inevitable consequence. But when the big boys have flushed the minnows out, they can then price as they choose, as they only have to compete with each other and not the more expensive but arguably more appealing sole trader who has been in the town for years.
Our local towns have evolved to such an extent that in one generation the high street has far fewer traditional family businesses still operating. In the four decades that I have lived in the area, I have seen both Wycombe and Marlow town centres evolve so that the majority of shops no longer actually sell goods, food shops are all owned by large chains and little other than branded service providers remain. Banks, estate agents, hairdressers, restaurants, phone shops and bars dominate. The reason is principally the cost of renting premises from the investment property companies that now own large swathes of British high streets.
In years gone by shopkeepers could pay the rent and still make a profit. Today the rise in rents has outstripped the rise in income from sales. The end result is that this week Marlow has now lost Jolliffes from Chapel Street and Turners from the High Street, forced out after five and two decades, respectively. The former will now trade from Wooburn Green and the latter from Station Road. Residents are understandably concerned but I suspect we all know deep down that the trend will never be reversed, any more than yellow lines on the road will vanish, or bobbies will reappear on the beat along your street and know your name, or a teacher can take children out to pick dandelions without completing innumerable Health and Safety forms and Risk Assessments.
They call it progress.