Just last month, I was filled with sadness at the news that Bohemian Days was closing. While this may not mean much to most of you, it was a beautiful gift and interiors shop in my local village, an independent, family-run business that had been trading for 18 years. It was my first, and one of my favourite, jobs. I was the Saturday girl from aged 16 and continued part-time work in between university terms and only gave up my retail manager position on Sundays last year.
It was one of those beautiful shops that was like an Aladdin’s cave: the stock was primarily made of one-off or unusual, but tasteful items which were sought out by the buyers from all over Europe. Dainty Danish jewellery, fabulous French furniture and decadent Dutch decor. So many people commented on how much they loved the shop and loved browsing the ever-changing displays. But this is where the problem laid: browsing, not buying.
Despite being featured in high profile magazines like Country Living and House to Home and even being named Independent Gift Retailer of the Year in 2013 for South England, this was not enough to keep this one-off store afloat.
This story is not a one-off: all over the country, shops are struggling to continue trading. High streets are rapidly emptying and being filled with charity shops and chain stores as these are the only people who can afford the steep rent charges of shop sites.
Charity shops receive a reduced rates for shop sites and large chains are the only ones who can afford the extortionate rents. It’s sad but high streets all over the country are gradually morphing into the same parade of shops: I would be willing to bet that your local high street has a Costa/Starbucks, a Tesco Express/Sainsburys local and a Boots/Superdrug.
Even clothes shops in shopping centre are just a repeat of the next city along. Everyone ends up wearing the same things and it takes the joy out of shopping. Another problem with shopping centres is that all the big brand names move into the flashy, expensive new sites, leaving all the independents struggling on the old highstreet, where nobody bothers to visit any more. Why brave the rain to go to that cute boutique store when you have Topshop, River Island and Zara all under one roof?
Don’t get me wrong, I love these shops and do shop at chain stores myself, but where possible I try to shop local and buy from independents. There is generally more a sense of community among the local shops, because the owners put their heart and soul into their shops, cafes and restaurants. It is their livelihood, they are not just a cog in a machine, they are the machine.
But perhaps an even better reason to spend money in locally is that it is actually better for the economy. According to Independent Retailer of the Month, “for every £1 spent locally around 50p – 70p of that money recirculates back into the local economy. For the same £1 spent out of town or online only 5p trickles back to the local community.”
Quite simply, it makes good sense to shop locally at independent retailers to keep the variety of the high street alive and stimulate the British economy. So next time you have a choice between picking up a loaf of bread or birthday card, why not take a look in a little one-off shop rather than a well-known chain store? You may be pleasantly surprised.