Tuesday, 3 December 2019

We all need our Boswell

I just had to pop back here for a rare post as my Wordpress blog is over-run with adverts unless I agree to upgrade to a subscription and three readers don't really justify the investment. These 21st Century economic models where you exchange your soul for wonderful "free" services take a bit of getting used to.

And speaking of which, two items of news this week brought home to me just what a cataclysmic shift has occurred in our day to day life as "a nation of shopkeepers" over the last few years. We are all aware that the High Street is in difficulties and we've all witnessed the deterioration of our town centres as specialist shops are replaced by charity shops, hairdressers and coffee shops. Every town has empty un-let shops and even successful retail cities like Norwich have a significant proportion of empty stores. 

My assumption has always been that the old adage "don't be in the middle" is at work and retailers have to be either super cheap and accessible or ridiculously expensive and exclusive to succeed - those left in the middle end up providing neither cheapness nor quality and get squeezed whilst Primark and Barbour control more market from either end of the spectrum. 

However it seems that this is over-simplistic as in the last week Oxford's oldest Department Store and Norfolk's longest running car-boot sale have both announced their closure. Both appeared to be a permanent part of our cultural life, Boswell's since 1738 and Banham since 1984. They will be joining the long list of closures from Woolworths to Mothercare and it really brings home the extent of the slide in the way we go about our business. 

Most would agree that replacing nice busy high streets with lots of anonymous blokes charging round in white vans making 175 deliveries a day is a BAD thing, particularly for our social cohesion and cultural life. The same could be said of the 11,000 pubs which have closed their doors in the UK in the last 10 years, a slide which goes back to the 1940's. 

The conventional wisdom is that we all want "experience" rather than goods and this is reflected in the way we are prepared to fork out £150 for a Coldplay Concert yet expect their entire catalogue to be available for nothing - the days of the £15 CD are long gone. Having said that, I keep noticing an expanding rack of 12" vinyl LP's appearing in our Sainsbury's which I suppose is more of an "experience" than clicking a Spotify link. I remember the intense bearded chap talking to his mate: "The things that really attracted me back to vinyl were the expense and the inconvenience".  

I will no longer be trying to flog my old CD's off at a quid each at Banham Car Boot Sale anyway. Welcome to the 21st Century.

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