By Lauren Edwards
Over the last year there has been a procession of high street clothing brands shutting their shops for good. BHS, Laura Ashley, Dorothy Perkins all began to transform into Starbucks and Costas before our very eyes and we coped, we kind of expected it. BHS was where my Mum bought her slippers and ‘good bedding’ so not something I would personally miss, but then as Miss Selfridge, Debenhams and finally Topshop were later added to the funeral pyre, it all started to feel a bit like the end of an era.
However, it was the demise of Topshop, in particular the Topshop on Oxford Circus that left me with the biggest pang of nostalgia. Affectionately known as the ‘big Topshop’ during my younger years, my friends and I would head to this mecca of fashion, through the big glass doors and onto the escalators that would deliver us into the mannequin laden shop floor on many a Saturday afternoon. There was an urban myth that the ‘big Topshop’ was where model spotters looked for the next Kate Moss, so obviously we would pile on the bronzer and Harmony hairspray and pout as we trawled through the three floors of fashion and probably end up just buying a lipstick. When I worked at a publishers in Soho in my early 20s, I spent my lunch hours in ‘big Topshop’ wandering through each meticulously designed clothing section, pretending I was Carrie Bradshaw, whilst a DJ pumped House music into the always roasting heat of my favourite shop.
Online clothing store ASOS will now take the helm at Topshop with Boohoo having paid out a whopping £55 million for the online business of Debenhams, meaning this department store giant will vanish from the high street after 242 years, which is a tragic situation for all the employees that have lost their jobs and pensions. Businesses have had to tread water for such a long time during this pandemic and it has been incredible to see how companies have had to adapt to survive. But what if this wasn’t the demise of our high street but instead the evolution of our local shopping centres?
In the coastal town of Poole in Dorset, Legal and General in collaboration with the local council, have invested in the local shopping centre which had become overwhelmed with boarded up shops. L&G have been contacting local businesses to offer them the opportunity of rent-free shops and their business rates covered for two years in a bid to refresh their high street. Many councils in the UK are looking to secure similar regeneration projects through public and private investment to update their own town centres where shopping centres appear outdated and part empty.
The market town of Saffron Walden, where I live, has an abundance of local shops and businesses that have had to adapt through numerous lockdowns and tiered restrictions by offering click and collect services to their customers and moving their shopping online. Since 2018, Saffron Walden has become a business improvement district (BID), whereby, businesses are asked to pay a small levy on top of their business rates. This is then used to fund projects which benefit local businesses and the town itself.
However, how can we entice the younger generation back to their local town once restrictions have lifted? Are we now a generation of online shoppers? Is it OK that we are on first name terms with our Amazon delivery driver? My daughter and her friends will happily Snapchat the opening of their Shein clothing deliveries and my son stares at me in disbelief when I tell him about getting the bus to Virgin Megastore on a Saturday to buy a CD single, before the heady days of streaming music. All we can hope is that once we make it through this strange time that the freedom of shopping will entice all age groups to hit the high street once more.