I watched a fascinating programme on tv last night about the hardships facing shops on our high streets. It hit home to me because our local high street has suffered terribly in the 'economic downturn', with big name stores pulling out due to rent increases and independent shops closing by the week. I was staggered to find that we're by no means the worst; in some cases (such as Dunstable in Bedfordshire) the experts think that the closures have now reached critical mass. In other words, there are so few shops left that nobody is visiting the town centre and the remaining shops have no customers, so they too will have to close.
It's all very sad. Those of us who don't drive depend on local shops that are accessible on foot or by public transport and we're seeing our choice cut day by day. In one case last night a town's last remaining baker had just closed its doors. Where are people going to buy bread? And I feel particularly sorry for elderly folk, who may not have the means to travel to out-of-town malls and nearby hypermarkets.
But it did just strike me - who is to blame for all this? Yes, okay, I know about the recession, and the fact that people in general are spending less. But it seems to me that the problem goes deeper than that. One statistic quoted last night, in the case of Tewkesbury, a lovely old town in Gloucestershire, was that only 11% of its inhabitants shopped in the town. Presumably the other 89% go out of town to nearby cities, malls and supermarkets. That doesn't leave much of a customer base to keep the small town centre shops going, does it?
I hear a lot of people grumbling about the lack of shops in their village, on their local high street, even in their city centre. But, um, maybe we should all moan a bit less and use our local facilities more. After all, it's we who have the power to save or condemn our local shops, and even a handful more sales per week could be enough to tide them by...