@angela.chick for Just a Card
A clone town is where nearly all the shops are the same. You could be near Land’s End or John O’Groats, and not know where you were. Aside from killing off local communities and shops, clone towns are frankly – boring. Cambridge is England’s most cloned town, and Whitstable (a little seaside town in Kent) is the least, with over 90% of the shops being indie-owned. One local told Coast magazine ‘It’s a bit posh with lots of gifty little galleries, but it’s a bit scruffy too. But still a proper community’.
Most of us shop at big supermarkets with heavy hearts. So what can we collectively do to help stop the takeover by giant corporations? Owners of indie shops can help by offering loyalty cards, free local foot/bicycle delivery and in-store events. And giving helpful information (for instance, know pet-toxic plants and houseplants to avoid recommending, due to many people being unaware).
Twenty-First Century Syndrome: knowing a place so well, that you’re bored by the time you first visit. Paul Kingsnorth
In his book Real England, Paul travels around the country, seeing how community shops, pubs and orchards are disappearing under the sea of Tesco and shopping centres. The book is over 10 years old, but things are worse, not better. We have lost nearly all our indie shops, supermarkets are more powerful, and governments even promote Tesco and Amazon as ‘job creators’, where the truth is local indies offer proportionally more (and better) work opportunities. And the priceless pleasures of visiting a local greengrocer or hardware store are almost long-gone, as is browsing in an indie bookstore.
Ask your councillor or MP what he or she is doing to support local shops. In the Norfolk town of Sheringham (also in Paul’s book), there was a 13-year battle to stop Tesco building a supermarket over a locally-owned supermarket (funded by a local entrepreneur). Local councillors voted in Tesco instead. They give money to the community, but the town will never be the same again, and many small shops have now gone under.
Another problem with clone towns, is the harm they do to wildlife. Most of the big chains rip out ancient building facades and replace them with glass-fronted buildings and shopping centres. But our towns need less light pollution and glass buildings, to help prevent birds flying into windows and changed migration and breeding patterns (many birds now ‘wake up and sing’ in the middle of the night, as the floodlights and noises confuse them). Abroad, sea turtles are even heading towards brightly-lit shopping centres instead of the moon, to lay their eggs.
The COVID pandemic of course was a tragedy, but one surprising consequence was that many indie shops thrived, as people realised that they are not just ‘buildings with things in to buy’. Delivering food to vulnerable people created a community spirit, that caused over 6000 chain stores to close. A shame it took a disease that killed so many, to make the obvious – obvious.
In the US they invented a word called ‘shopping’. When one is learning English, one thinks it means to go buy things. But it is just to go look at things, so you might eventually become interesting in buying. Of course later on, you realise what it really means is that people go to shopping malls to see people. Enrique Peñalosa