Our town centres have reached a crisis point. Something needs to be done to stop further decline. We must use our imagination and practical ability to turn high streets into places people want to visit frequently.
Redefining the high street
Essentially there are two reasons to go shopping: either you want to go, or you have to. Yet, with the rise of out-of-town retail and e-commerce, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever have to regularly shop in the high street again. It’s far more convenient to drive to a supermarket or order items online.
Of course, there are some specialist businesses like estate agents, loan shops, opticians and dentists that still reside alongside the charity shops and vape stores. But, while these businesses may be necessary, they aren’t going to draw large crowds of regular shoppers. People don’t usually want to visit these businesses; they just have to on occasion.
So, the question arises: what do we want our high streets to look like, now that retail has gone elsewhere?
If retail is to be relevant, then in the absence of any need to go shopping in the high street, we need to create a place that people want to visit. To return to being bustling hubs of activity, town centres must become leisure destinations. They need restaurants, cafes and pubs, independent fashion stores and other specialist retailers, theatres, cinemas, music and sports venues. It will be down to small independent retailers providing an extensive range of products to create a happy place for browsers. Somewhere that people want to visit for a day trip or for an evening’s entertainment.