How Our High Streets Have Changed This Century

Chelmsford high street

The traditional High Street in towns and cities all across the UK has changed dramatically over the last two decades. We have seen major brands disappear and watched as traditional independent shops have slowly been replaced by nationwide chains. The type of shops has changed too – high streets seem to have and abundance of nail bars, chicken shops, mobile phone shops and coffee shops. Fast food chains are holding strong, but the traditional convenience store is now well and truly relegated to the suburbs. For years people have been talking about the Death of the High Street, but one thing thing is certain across most of Essex – the high street is not dead, it’s just very different.

Our Favourite Shops Gone

Some of these shops disappeared more than 10 years ago, but we have lost shops such as Woolworths, Dixons, Currys, Our Price,  Argos, Littlewoods, Tandy, Athena, Blockbuster, Borders, C&A, Principles, Rumbelows and Birthdays. And of course, JJB Sports and Comet.

Some of these live on away from the high street. Currys, Carphone Warehouse and PC World merged and are found in retail parks all over the country, Argos is now found in Sainsburys stores, but the others are just no longer required as people purchase cheaper goods online.

Athena is an unexpected loss, as surely people still enjoy posters on their walls – this is not something you can easily get online. Maybe it is because teens spend more time looking at their phones than staring at their heart-throb’s on the bedroom wall.

Gaming Shops

One really interesting change is the recent growth in gaming shops, such as Counter Culture Games, where people gather to play board games, as well as purchase them – a true sign that the high street is becoming a place for people to meet once again. Board games used to be something that families would play together during the holidays or on a rainy weekend, but nowadays strangers see them as a way to reconnect with people again and shun electronic gadgets that have stolen away many of the enjoyably and social aspects of playing games. It is true that more people than ever before are playing games, but a vast majority of people are doing so on a mobile device or games console on their own – gaming shops is making playing more sociable again.

Similar to the board game revival is the continued growth of gambling shops. Although gambling shops come under the entertainment banner, which is a growing sector on the high street, we would have expected to see online casinos to cause a decline in demand on the high street, but the reverse seems to be true. Maybe this is just another example of how people tend to gravitate towards the high street shops because they prefer to place bets in person. However, both online and high street gambling is on the rise, and this may be a direct impact of austerity – people look for ways to win some extra money.

The Future of the High Street

The high street is likely to evolve more in the next decade as the 20’s will see more changes brought about on the back of technology and changes to shopping habits. High streets are likely to become places for entertainment and socialising, with more cafes, bars and less conventional forms of entertainment, such as karaoke bars and betting shops. Fast food shops and coffee shops are more popular than ever with no signs of going into recession. Nail bars and hairdressers are also still very popular on the high street – women especially love to combine beauty with socialising.

One very positive trend seen in the last 20 years is the return of outdoor market stalls in high streets. Chelmsford always has food and gift stalls on the high street at the weekends, as do many other towns. Also, many towns close off their high streets for Christmas – this is such a hit it is surprising it is not done more often – maybe Summer High Street Festivals are something that we need to introduce, with live music, cool cocktails and el fresco dining?

We cannot predict how things will really change on the high street in the next 20 years, but one thing we are confident about is this: the high street will survive and continue to be loved by people all over Essex.

Photo by David Jones, CC Licence.

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