Thursday, 2 April 2009

Nearest Fabric Shop Nine Miles Away

Going to buy a new zip for a pair of jeans this week, I was shocked to find Oxford's only remaining fabric and haberdashery shop had closed down owing to rent increases (according to the sign on the door) after many years of apparently successful trading. Even more surprising in that King's occupied some pretty unprepossessing upstairs premises which you could hardly imagine would command either enormous rent hikes or rival businesses vying for.

This is not the only independent trader to disappear from the Oxford street scene lately after many years, and I can't help wondering why there aren't blanket rent and rate freezes in this recession, as how can it more advantageous to end up with empty units and buildings generating no income at all and causing gaps in the street scene like missing teeth, than landlords supporting tenants through these tricky times? Is it not bad enough that the banks have pretty well frozen loan support to small businesses, without the government and local councils joining in the kicking?

Take Oxford's historic Covered Market for example. Despite being a prime tourist attraction for decades, it has also been under threat for years through exhorbitant rents imposed on the tenants, rents out of all proportion to inflation, and sometimes sadly, to takings.

But it's the Covered Market. What else could go there? What would the vision be for it if all the tenants were forced out?

Then there's the obvious knock-on effect that the more businesses which fail, the greater the number of unemployed, which surely helps no one, least of all the government and economy. And with the demise of our once proud manufacturing base and the much publicised brain drain, if we Brits are now reduced to a nation of shopkeepers and shoppers, support for commerce is needed now more than ever, or what is left?

It seems like a vicious circle. At least in the US, some of the greedy bankers have come forward and apologised for their short-termism and even given their bonuses back. What public atonement and restitution have we seen from any of ours yet, let alone an emergency government economic rescue plan, except for bailing out a few of our more foolhardy, bad bet banks?

Perhaps as one innovative trader has it, the problem with this country is footwear.

Or perhaps we will have to resort to this solution to restore the economy if supply of employees is outstripping demand.

Incidentally I found out why it was a bad idea of Mr Brown's to print more money the other day when a homeless man joked '£30 for a cup of tea, miss?'


Steve said...

People forget that independent traders are the people that keep any economy well oiled and healthy. Leamington too is becoming a scarred shop-scape of boarded up shops or shops that appear for a mere fortnight, make a quick buck and then disappear again. Empty shops make anytown look down at heel and depressing and sow disenchantment in everybody.

Lucy Fishwife said...

Don't get me started on the indies v chains debate! After 6 years at *cough*waterstones*cough* I've never been happier than in an independent. No head office memos telling you to hard-sell Jeffrey Archer or Piers Morgan's latest pile of cack, no regulations about "table skirts"...
Aren't there any Indian sari type fabric shops up the Cowley Rd?
What a terrible shame about the covered market - I had my ears pierced there aged 15 (50p a side and they didn't go septic, unlike my first set of holes, £10 in Debenhams). What on earth do they think they'll replace it with?

The Sagittarian said...

Our New Brighton shops seem to share a similar fate, Laura. However, they have had a strip-mall there for years with independant's coming and going so in some ways it is not very noticeable. I suspect once it starts happening in the city there will be tears before bedtime! I love the sound of the covered market!

Wisewebwoman said...

I'm proudly unbigboxed for many years now and seek independents which are slowly choking. But I don't give up, they will rise again when the chains go bankrupt as surely they will.

Nota Bene said...

Always head to an independent myself...whenever I can. Around he country it seems that covered markets are under threat...such a shame as there's a vibrancy and energy not found elsewhere.

Brother Tobias said...

Sadly (and perversely) it is the markets that rely on the custom of the people who are most hit by recession. Maidstone's weekly part-covered, part open market is dying on its feet; I'm sure within a year it'll be a (long vacant) speculative development site.
(How good to see Richard Wilson and Peter Cooke overlapping like that)

duchess said...

I will certainly miss King's, as I used it often. But it had some of the worst customer service, and the rudest shop assistants, I have ever encountered. There were complex rules about where you had to queue for service and if you violated them no one told you... they just didn't serve you. Unlike virtually every shop around them they refused to open even for a few hours on a Sunday.

I don't think you need worry about the Market closing, though some of the shops inside have, and will again.

Anonymous said...

It's the same in Norwich - it used to be a city where there was a thriving set of independant shops but when I left there were lots closed down and it's probably worse now.

It's much better here in Freo - the covered markets seem to be thriving and there isn't quite the same culture of chainstores. But Freo is probably ten years behind the UK so I am sure it will come.

I always try to shop at independants. I hope my chap is still there on Norwich market when I get back - he repairs all my clothes for very little, new zips etc. I love him. Although I've never told him that . Perhaps I should?

The Sagittarian said...

Hi Laura, just thought I'd drop by to let you know I'm thinking of ya and hoping you're having a nice day! :-)

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Steve, yes I've seen the sad and parlous state of many Leamington independent shops. And the fact that the Regency Arcade is still closed down. A crying shame.

Lucy, I think that Indian shop in Cowley Road has gone. At least every other store is an eaterie on this road now, sometimes every store! You work in a lovely bookshop indeed. Long may it continue. It is said to be virtually impossible for an independent bookshop to thrive without a decent website too these days though, or hosting regular author events - even if they have to hire the local church hall to do so.

Sagittarian, I hope you bolshy New Zealanders will see off the chains with both barrels. They are really not there to do you any favours, except erode variety and choice under the guise of variety and choice!

WWW - you have admirable confidence. I hope you are right.

Sterling work Nota Bene. The irony is that Oxford's Covered Market is fairly tourist-orientated already - not really a locals market but an upmarket boutique and organic food centre - so what WOULD they replace it with if they drove the traders out?

BT - I fear you need to spearhead the 'Save The Maidstone Market' campaign! You could rope your daughter in to write the protest song and the SS to ride naked through the streets in Lady Godiva fashion!

Duchess, you are right that the service wasn't very good in King's fabrics, though they always seemed harrassed rather than rude. Or perhaps all their financial woes were bleeding into customer service and shouldn't have been. It's still a bloody nuisance to traipse 9 miles to Mason's in Abingdon though - amazing emporium of fabric though Mason's is.

Your Norwich man sounds wonderful RB. Nice to know that not everything is better down under, though long may they remain 10 years behind us in not embracing the chains. Not all progress is in a forwardly direction.

Sagittarian thanks. I've had to focus on a job interview and a gig lately and then came down with an incredibly bad bout of flu, hence I got horribly behind with my blogging life.

Annabel Gaskell said...

Haberdashery is thriving in Abingdon. People come to Masons from miles around ... Masons is actually 3 shops - the Craft one, The Knitting and Home furnishing one, and the trad Haberdashery one. I love them all.