Someone was so upset in Bristol that they left a floral tribute at Nipper’s foot. In London, the film crews arrived as the vultures descended on the last sale. HMV – His Master’s Voice – the British high street chain that had survived for nearly a hundred years had gone into liquidation. I went to the flagship on Oxford Street to feel what the final days were like – it’s the largest record store in the world – and paradoxically it was packed to the rafters. I’ve never seen the place busier, and I’d been going there forever.
I still preferred it to Amazon for the simple reason that you could browse when you had a spare few minutes, and find something you hadn’t expected. This remains the problem with Amazon – no matter how sophisticated the listing process becomes, you will never be looking in one section and have your eye caught by something on the other side of the room. But I have to say it was badly run, with stock fragmented away from its core business of music and film to include games, software and other bits and pieces. Whenever a chain does this it feels doomed.
The owners say it will survive in one form or another, and I hope it does. In the same week, Jessops photography folded and Blockbuster finally vanished for good. Now Tesco and other chains have been accused of selling burgers tainted with other meat products, and it feels as if the traditional high street is really starting to change.
I hope so. Over Christmas I set off with the intention of shopping in the West End several times and got derailed by the wares in a new wave of cool indie local shops in King’s Cross. I have never used a car to go food shopping because there are plenty of small shops and markets in Central London. I buy French bread and cheeses in St Pancras Station, fresh fish and vegetables in Islington, but good meat remains a problem because there are so few butchers left now.
However, it’s difficult for families to do this. It takes time and costs more, but the alternative is to end up back at a supermarket. Online orderers Hubbub round up the best from small shops in your area and deliver when you get home, allowing local producers to stay busy on weekdays as well as the weekends. Supermarkets are at the bottom of the quality chain. Produce is graded, top quality for hotels and restaurants, then local suppliers and finally the big chains. Surely it’s better to consume less and make it high quality, rather than eating high volumes of third-rate food?
For years now, satellite chainstore malls have been destroying inner city high streets, but small shops can fight back if their rents stay controlled. Pop-up shops have gone from being a novelty to being ubiquitous, and many stay the course to become permanent. Perhaps Nipper will live on in some way, but it’s looking like the high street may really be changing for good.