Horses for courses and what our shopping habits say about us
The horsemeat scandal raises a number of issues, not least our relationship with shops. WMN writers Catherine Barnes and Simon Parker agree to differ.
It should be a golden opportunity for our ailing high streets – with the continuing horsemeat scandal stimulating an unbridled consumer rush to local butchers shops.
But while high profile “use it or lose it” campaigns for greater support of high street businesses have gained momentum over the past year – why the silence now?
There are many Westcountry high streets still boasting shops and farmers market selling locally-sourced produce, which should be yelling from the rooftops: We’re here and open for business – come on in.
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Unless you work a weekday nine to five, in which case, the “sorry, we’re closed” sign is probably up.
While many of us might love the opportunity to buy local – albeit from the kind of shop that does not decimate the weekly budget on a ‘farmhouse’ cake and couple of chipolatas – we’re stymied by high street hours that ought to have gone out with the ark.
There are still some Westcountry towns where businesses hold half-day closing sacred. A huge proportion of independent retailers hold the Sabbath dear and uphold a sense of tradition apparently held in highest regard by those buying into a chocolate-box retirement away from the bustle of a home counties rat-race.
If anyone stands to gain from the growing appetite for local produce fuelled by the horsemeat furore, it is likely to be the supermarkets – witness TV’s Ant & Dec fronting a campaign for Morrisons, promoting its British farm-sourced beef.
While our Westcountry towns may not be able to compete with an advertising blitz on such a major level, there are thousands independent shopkeepers around the region paying into Business Improvement Districts and other schemes launched to market themselves and draw shoppers in.
But while they subsidise fancy floral displays and much-vaunted “improved signage”, they seem to miss the point. Their shops are shut, while supermarkets are raking it in from homeward-bound workers. Why not establish a new precedent by opening later and trading longer into the evening?
Meanwhile, some communities have invested in bespoke logos – usually the name of the town in a bolder or twirlier font. Far more welcome would be if traders pooled their resources to establish a delivery scheme – a once-traditional service at which the multiples have come to excel. What does grate is a sense of entitlement that emanates from a few, but very vocal, members of the local independent retail sector – as though it’s the consumers’ duty to keep them afloat, with no concession on their part.
Isn’t it about time they heeded the shoppers who say: We would if we could, but we can’t?