There always seems to be people willing to jump on the bandwagon of saying that there are too many charity shops on our high streets, it’s that age old ‘British’ tradition of building something up to knock it down. The world of retail is changing and it’s not just about the growth of online shopping but about what shoppers on the high street want, they seem to either like large, almost superstore versions of shops in retail parks or on the other side of the spectrum liking small independent boutique style stores. Gone it seems is the day of the average sized retail store, if a shopper wants New Look they either want to go to their large city centre store or buy there items online. It doesn’t seem to be lucrative any more to be opening stores in average sized high streets where there is only a row or two of shops, so what’s the only viable option other than food outlets for empty shops….. yes you guessed it, charity shops.
Imagine you’re on an average British high street with say about twenty units on either side of the street, now imagine all the charity shops are suddenly gone. What are you left with? You are left with a street of fast food outlets, banks and estate agents with not an ounce of creativity of vibrancy to be seen for dust. The high street loses its sense of community without them, its soul. When people say they have a high street full of charity shops they are just not seeing it for what it offers. They have a high street of unique items, quirky homewares, quality second hand books, that vinyl record you’ve been looking for, every clothing brand you can think of, occasional designer bargains and treasures you didn’t know you needed… Then on top of all that the shop itself is a little social hub in the community it belongs to, offering opportunities to people with all different skill sets and backgrounds. If you want to see diversity and unlikely groups interacting then you want to pay a visit to your local charity shop. Just one shop will have given opportunities to countless people looking for experience to enable them to get a job, so the combined total of all the charity shops down one street must run into hundreds every year.
So I suppose when people are moaning about charity shops I think they are missing the point about the contribution they make to their communities and the vibrancy they bring. I think as we start moving into the future we will see more specialists shops popping up on the high street, there might be the bookstore, the music store, the women clothing store, the menswear store, the shoe shop, the homewares shop, the children’s shop. The only thing about them is that they will all be charity versions of the shops selling donated product. Of course this sort of diversity to happen at its most effectively it would involve all of a high streets charity shops working together as part of a local charity shops association. This kind of coalition might be far off into the future, but having a collective local voice could prove to be highly influential because acting together makes many things more powerful.
Without charity shops, the classic British high street would be lost, they deserve to be celebrated as the little beacons of hope that they are…..
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