A CORNER shop I pass regularly is at present a nail and tanning salon. Its most recent conversion was, without irony, carefully and thoughtfully done. Yet I seldom see a customer there.
Tanning or nail polishing isn’t on my priority list. But I wish the owner well while fearing she might go the same way as the previous half dozen, from the Polish foods specialist to the second-hand paperbacks and Gothic ornaments and second-hand baby clothes.
Every time another attempt has failed on that corner I’ve thought that more market research and less “that’s a good idea” would have saved heartache and endless empty days.
In our town, as in Small Town, Anywhere, there’s a lot of it about. Some, as with the short-lived corner shop enterprises, have been misguided. When charity shops and established second-hand dealers are closing there isn’t much scope for paperbacks and cheap Buddhas.
Other businesses have been bravely attempted and well presented and still foundered on market forces, such as disappearing demand for CDs. Yet others have mixed fortunes within the same sector – some cafes, bistros and restaurants get trade, others fail, while the number of fast-food outlets, including of course a Greggs, I find as astonishing as the number of taxi drivers.
The twice-weekly High Street market struggles. An excellent never-miss greengrocer, an intermittent fresh fish stall, occasional stalls selling cheap clothes, a forlorn occasional children’s roundabout, and that’s it.
But as well as one or two big-chain branches such as Boots and WH Smiths, cut-price retail outlets and travel agents, there are still surviving family firms selling furniture, books and clothing and three traditional quality butchers.
Arguments rage about tourism and shopping and how to get users of the big holiday caravan park to spend more in town. More parking is the plea to save shoppers walking a hundred yards, although how effective 20 more parking spaces would be against the competition of out-of-town supermarkets and online shopping is doubtful.
The reality we face is of an ageing population, few large-scale employers and being one of the lowest-paid, most thinly populated areas of Britain when most of us are cutting costs.
Logically, I fear for that corner shop. But should I try to see it as a tribute to human hope and believe that, some day, someone will succeed and a long haul towards town regeneration will be under way? Know what? I’m going to try.