Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Modern Day Dutch & British High Street

At the end of last year I watched a series on the BBC called "Turn Back Time; The High Street". It was a weekly series which placed modern day shopkeepers and tradespeople on business on a high street and then turned back the clock. The viewer was taken back in time to 1870 when the High Street came into being, through the Edwardian and Victorian eras, to the 1930s, to rationing during World War 2 through to the 1960s and 1970s. It was fascinating.

Photo: Jelmer Rozendal
Each shop owner was only allowed to stock what was actually available in the time period, and sell their wares in the manner of the era. From small, family, specialist businesses the high street turned into a dead, empty shells as large self-service supermarkets took over. The High Street changed in response to customer demands and trends; cheap, disposable goods. And nobody seemed too thrilled with the way it developed - yet that is the reality of our high streets in Britain - chain stores and large supermarkets.

It's not hugely different in the Netherlands. I read that up to 90% of high street stores belong to a chain and that certainly fits with how I see each new town I visit - the standard shops strewn across every town centre. International branded shops are emerging on a regular basis (like Starbucks and the Apple Store). One difference in the Netherlands though is the absence of superstores and huge out of town retail parks.

Photo: Petra Giner
I also think local shopping still plays a big role here. Within walking distance of where I live there are two bakers, three supermarkets, two newsagents/bookstores, a post office, two delicatessens, two takeaway shops and two chemists. None of the shops are very big, including the supermarkets. In fact they are barely the size of a Tesco Extra store but for many locals these supermarkets are where they do their main shopping and visit them daily.

The specialist shops nearby do tend to be independent, family businesses so whilst the average high street is dominated by chains, the local arena does seem to be open to smaller fish.

Is your local shopping area dominated by chains or is there still room for independent shopkeepers where you live? What do you think about the way High Streets have developed?

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