The death of the small shop

Britain was once branded as “a nation of shopkeepers”.  Unfortunately, that image has slowly disintegrated, and very recently, the destruction of the small shop has become so commonplace.

As an American, I do find it convenient to shop for everything in one place. But the quaintness of the small family-owned shops is so essentially British that I hate to see that institution dying.

When we made up our minds to move here, we thought we’d like to support these small shops. Unfortunately, with the recession, it has been difficult.  We live in an out-of-the-way spot, where there are no small shops, so it’s easiest to go to the nearest grocery store for everything.  Also, it’s the big shops that can offer special deals, and when money is tight, it’s the driving force.

But, there are other shops that are closing down due to competition, not from major retail chains, but from charity shops.  And this makes it even sadder.  I have seen four small bookshops close recently in towns nearby.  I love books, but I especially love the old, used ones.  And two of those bookshops sold used books.  Unfortunately, the charity shops have taken business away from these stores, making it harder for them to compete against the big names, like WH Smith or Waterstone’s.

Though I shouldn’t rant on charity shops, I can’t help it.  These charity stores are unlike the thrift stores in the US.  Of course, they do whatever it takes to make money for their charities, but I can’t help wondering how much of their money actually goes to benefit the charity, and how much goes to pay the executives, etc.  In addition, some of their pricing is more like a discount boutique.  They even strive to look like one.

There is a charity bookshop that we shop at.  We support it because the pricing is very good – not inflated like the charity boutiques.  Also, they don’t appear to trash anything.  The boutiques only like to display books that look new.  Then there are charity stores that aim to look like antique stores, so their pricing also reflects that.

So, yes, I bemoan the fate of the family-run bookshops that face competition from two sides.  I have noticed also that some of the clothing shops are ready to go the same route.  It won’t be long before the little baker’s and butcher’s will face that fate (though they can’t blame charity stores for their demise).

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