Monday, 22 May 2017

Coalville cannot be stuck in a past which no longer exists - my Coalville Times column

As a child growing up in the 1970’s there was nothing finer than being taken by my mum to, in my memory at least, the gleaming and large New Broadway shopping centre in Coalville to spend my saved up pocket money at the rather wonderful Geoff’s Toys.

I often think back to those visits where I would hand over pennies for a brand new Matchbox car or MB board game; never Action Man or Star Wars figures mark you – it seemed every boy my age had an ‘aunty’ who worked at Palitoy.

I remember the shelves seemingly tightly packed with Scalextric race cars and Hornby train sets all the way to the ceiling and in my reminiscences how dark the shop was as a result of windows being blocked out by countless Spirographs and girls toys I had absolutely no interest in.

And now after all those years Geoff’s Toys will soon be gone. A part of my childhood and the early years of countless Coalville children has died.

We all know how Coalville has suffered. Over the years we’ve seen great independent traders, look no further than the wonderful Cayman Reef, disappear. As the fortunes of national chains have varied we’ve seen the departure of Woolworths, Farm Foods, Greenwoods and soon NatWest leaving our beleaguered town.

Thanks to hard work by traders, landlords and yes, even the council often those empty shells of buildings have found new businesses to fill them. But not often enough. How many times have all of us bemoaned or heard about the death of our town?

We’ve all lost count of how often we complain about the dearth of charity shops or discount retailers.

We claim that Coalville is a special case. That Ashby doesn’t have it as tough. That if only the powers that be bothered.

But we’re wrong.

Coalville isn’t any different from countless other small towns that have seen years and years of decline. And the truth is that the problems go much, much deeper than any one organisation has the power to change.

If you have ever been lucky enough to visit the United States, whether it’s New York or Orlando or any other town of any size you will have visited Macy’s.

Macy’s is a giant of retail owning hundreds of anchor stores in virtually every mall around the country. If that isn’t enough the company owns the upmarket Bloomingdales to boot. Yet last week the company reported like for like sales as being 4.6% down on last year’s first quarter.

Over the past year Macy’s have announced the closure of over 100 huge department stores, some that have been trading for more than 60 years.

Macy’s are not on their own. Sales at other long established chains are plummeting. Kohls, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Sears, all massive players in US shopping, are consistently down.

And the explanation that comes forward again and again? The internet.

Last week the BBC reported Jeff Gennette, the Chief Executive of Macy’s as saying “These are unusual and challenging times for retail…we know that these changes are…not cyclical.”

In America NBC news recently put the plight of retailers even more succinctly: It’s “all really just a fancy way of saying “Amazon.””

I’m certainly not saying internet shopping in general or Amazon in particular are bad; I use internet shopping as much as the next person.

The problem is very nearly all of us do, it’s convenient and cheap; who can blame us? But we can’t have it all. We can’t have the advantages of the web and a thriving, vibrant town as we once did. Our expectations must be realistic.

There’s no reason why we can’t have great independent traders or seek to attract national chains. But in the future why will ever need the sheer number of retail units that we once had? How can we expect to sustain book shops, record or even toy stores when the way we shop has changed so significantly?

There’s absolutely no reason that Coalville, or any small market town for that matter, can’t be a success; but we have to base our expectations on reality rather on a past that no longer exists anywhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment