We will survive the arrival of a new M&S store in Scunthorpe says columnist Hugh Rogers
Now that the dust has settled on what, for convenience, we will call the M & S dispute and the developers can get on with what I think will be a very useful new shopping facility for Scunthorpe, it might be an appropriate moment for everyone concerned to metaphorically put up their swords and gather around the meeting table in order to discuss what can and should be done to revitalise Scunthorpe's ageing High Street.
The first thing to recognise is that Scunthorpe is not alone in its woeful state. Our High Street is replicated by the thousand up and down the country as changes in shopping habits, exacerbated by the economic downturn, wreak all kinds of havoc throughout the retail world.
The impending demise of HMV shops is just another illustration, like Comet ,of the way that online shopping has impacted upon traditional retail outlets. Even retailers like gents' outfitters, a corner of the market where you might suppose prospective purchasers would prefer to shop face to face, as it were, are suffering as people become more media-savvy and braver about making purchases online.
But that is not the whole problem - HMV unlike Comet have a thriving online store (which I hope will survive). There are a whole raft of issues - many readers have highlighted the cost of parking as being an issue. The sheer cost of leasing a shop on the High Street must sometimes feel like a millstone around the neck of even the most forward-looking retailer, especially as footfalls fade.
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In my opinion it is facile to suggest that our economic doldrums have had very much to do with the woes of High Streets. People may have less money in their pockets, but somehow seem to find the cash to buy ephemeral things like fireworks and Halloween trash which you might have thought would have been the first to go. Sales of Kindles are booming (which is probably not good news for the sellers of new books (though secondhand bookshops should do well)
It may be that the High Street will have to substantially re-invent itself. It is no good tempting shoppers with free parking if the shops themselves are dreary and expensive in contrast to their online or out-of-town cousins. What we need to look for is what the admen call a USP - a Unique Selling Point. We need to be giving hard-won customers the sort of stuff they can't get online - attractive premises, speciality lines, friendly and knowledgeable staff. That would be a start wouldn't it ?
Although I did not agree with Des Comerford and his KSA campaign insofar as it stood Canute-like against the M & S development, I have the greatest respect for Des, in particular his energy and commitment. We shall need those qualities in the coming months and years if our High Street is to survive and prosper. If we forget our past differences and join forces, I am confident that this gutsy little town of ours will be able to surmount its present difficulties and go on to enjoy a great future.