John Woodhouse: HMV's troubles show why high streets must adapt to survive
IT DOESN'T seem right to be gripped by nostalgia at my age. I never thought of myself as All Our Yesterdays' target market. But I was thinking of the high street I roamed as a child. It had pretty much everything. Even a place that sold organs. Wurlitzers, not kidneys.
There was a greengrocer, bakery, and one of those clothes shops that had socks in miniature drawers behind the counter. It was a time – before Primark – when people asked for stuff and didn't just throw everything on the floor.
Now the high street is being decimated. HMV and Jessops have gone in a matter of days. I can't lie – I'm to blame as much as anyone. I haven't bought a camera or music anywhere other than online for years. In fact, I did pretty much all my Christmas shopping online. In the end our postman gave up on the shoulder bag and got a hod.
I'm not saying I never physically shop. There's some things you always want to try out in the flesh. Like a pair of jeans, or an Ann Summers riding crop.
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And I still have a penchant for real bookshops. If nothing else to swap the dust jackets on Cheryl Cole: My Story and The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich.
But the days of the traditional chain store dominated high street are clearly numbered.
The model is moving towards places like Leek, which combines a smattering of well-known names with a plethora of quirky independents.
The problem for city centres is recreating that on a large scale. Fifty thousand square feet of floorspace takes some filling when your main product line is thimbles.
There must be many more stores on the brink. You go on to most high streets and the only place doing brisk business is Greggs. Digital technology is a wonderful thing but you can't download a pasty.
As far as I can see, the only thing holding the high street together is the fact that, for some bizarre reason, women still love shopping. What to most men is the equivalent of having a boil lanced is considered by women a leisure activity. This is a sex who genuinely enjoy looking at cushions. In their defence, they've never spent a day disassembling a motorbike engine in a shed.
Thankfully, we don't have one of those relationships where the husband is required to trail the wife round endless hellish outlets. I put paid to that early on when I had a panic attack in Accessorize.
Like any real man, I haven't been shopping with her for years. I don't need to. My mum gets all my clothes.
Some high street behemoths will, of course, always prosper. Marks and Spencer, for example, remains the go-to place for high quality foods and fortress underwear. And in Boots you'll never be judged when purchasing a speciality ointment.
But as the big players move out, it's the cheaper end of the market which moves in.
It never fails to amaze me what you can buy for a pound. Like a giant Toblerone – or the Civic Centre in Stoke.
Bargain basement stores have their place – they're a godsend when buying Christmas presents for people you don't like – but they don't have much kudos. It's why Liberty don't do twelve bags of Quavers for a pound.
Maybe if we encouraged people, other than the homeless, to live in city centres then they might have a brighter future – a ready made clientele on the doorstep.
That HMV dog staring into the phonograph looks a little plaintive now. Like so many in the high street he needs a new owner.