• Reading Level 5
Science | Design & Technology | Citizenship | PSHE

Shops now just a click away from oblivion

Could town centres be more fun without shops? As online retailers take over more and more traditional stores, planners are thinking of ingenious new ways to lure us back to the high street. The girl wakes up full of excitement. At last, it is here: 2 February 2022 – her 16th birthday! Now, with the pandemic over, she can celebrate by doing all the things that were impossible last year. She and her friends will head into town for some shopping at their favourite stores, Topshop and Miss Selfridge. It will be great! But then she suddenly remembers: the shops are no longer there. Topshop and Miss Selfridge are just two of the well-known names that are about to disappear from Britain’s city centres. It has just been announced that the online retailer Asos is buying the brands, along with Topman and HIIT. But it will not be selling their products through shops. Debenhams, another famous brand, went the same way last week. Its takeover by Boohoo means the end of its remaining 118 stores, with the possible loss of 12,000 jobs. These deals have banished any remaining hope that shopping might keep city centres alive. Between them, Asos and Boohoo will empty around 15 million square feet of retail space – an area amounting to 194 Premier League pitches. Even before take-overs, British high streets had empty space equivalent to one shop in eight. The question facing every city in the digital age is: what do we do with our town centres now? If they are to thrive, other ways of bringing people into them have to be found. There is no shortage of suggestions. They include turning shops into homes, offices, gyms, sports arenas, health spas and entertainment centres. One former Debenhams store is heading in that direction, with plans for a bowling alley, an e-karting area, ping-pong and pool tables, and a cocktail bar. Part of another large store, BHS in the West End of London, has been given over to crazy golf. “From rock climbing to indoor ski simulators and even axe-throwing,” says property expert Duncan Lillie, “there is an almost endless breed of next generation operators and entrepreneurs with ideas to cater for the pent-up demand for entertainment after lockdowns.” Another expert, James Child, believes the essential thing is to offer people things that require their physical presence. Cafés, pubs and restaurants are obvious examples, but there are plenty of others: “Services such as dry cleaners, key cutters, nail bars – even the post office and local bank. I’m pretty sure you can’t get your haircut online, right?” Town centres could also be opened up for those they are not currently geared to, such as old people, young families and pet owners. Few old people enjoy doing battle with hordes of shoppers, but many would welcome the idea of a retirement home just a short walk away from cafés, a medical centre and an arts centre. New green spaces would attract dog-owners, who could take their pets to nearby vets’ clinics and grooming salons. Indoor and outdoor playgrounds could be created for children. Could town centres be more fun without shops? Street treats Some say, no. There is no more enjoyable way of spending a Saturday than going into a real shop and trying on clothes or looking at the latest gadgets. A huge number of things bought online are sent back, and the more we return, the more delivery vans there will be, adding to traffic and pollution. Whatever else is put in high streets, shops will be needed to make them truly vibrant. Others argue that most town centres today are grim and lacking in character. Everywhere you go you see the same chain stores, and shopping is a slog when you have to carry lots of bags around with you and walk miles to a car park or bus stop. It would be far better if they were places where people either lived or just went to relax and enjoy themselves. KeywordsBoohoo - A UK based fashion brand which operates almost exclusively online.

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