@angela.chick for Just a Card
Most of us shop at big supermarkets with heavy hearts, so it pays to know tips to help support local indies, even if you don’t have many left, or find them expensive. Owners of indie shops can help by offering loyalty cards, free local foot/bicycle delivery and in-store events. It’s true that if you don’t use them, you lose them. So what can we collectively do to help stop the takeover by giant corporations?
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’.
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.
Next time you vote, 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 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
Ideas to Save Our Independent Shops
@angela.chick for Just a Card
- Know what you are selling. Knowing the local producers and knowing pet-toxic plants and houseplants to avoid recommending, are great ideas to help.
- Start small. A bag of organic carrots or a loaf of artisan bread makes all the difference. You then by default support the local signwriters who have lunch in the local pub etc. Big supermarkets tend to pay staff, then all other money (from management to produce) goes elsewhere.
- Take a morning or afternoon to really explore where you live, to find hidden gems. Perhaps there is a little baker or deli or gift shop down an alley, or in the next village? Make a list of items you buy on a regular basis, then find out if there are local indie shops you could support. Go for quality over quantity. Nobody needs a bag of 12 dinner rolls, if you live alone or in a small household. Buy two good rolls from the baker! Find an ironmonger to buy one picture hook, instead of a whole plastic bag of them.
- Benefit from discount cards for indie shops like Local Buyers Club (London) or Mustcard (South East). Vegans can also find cards to give discounts in indie health stores, which pay for themselves in weeks. Another way to save money is to amend your lifestyle (walking to shops saves petrol, and cooking real food means lower food bills).
- Shopappy lets indie shops list their goods online. Customers in 100 towns are already ordering goods this way, with home delivery or click-and-collect.
- Set up an indie shop website like in Oxford or Cambridge (the latter has a free magazine, available in local shops throughout the city).
- Run a local indie shop? Offer loyalty cards, rent the upstairs room to local book clubs or yoga class. Or band together with others and create a local blog about indie shops, with special offers.
- A great idea from the US is a local coupon book. The Sunrise Guide is printed annually with lots of eco information and money-off vouchers for local green shops and services. It pays for itself within weeks, so the books sell themselves. Schools and non-profits sell them on sale or return, keeping 50% of profits.