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Shop Will Eat Itself

1 January 08 words: Ian Kingsbury
illustrations: Ash Dilks

Nottingham, as you may have been told a million times or so, is a ‘Retail Mecca’. But is that necessarily a good thing, and what does it actually mean?

It‘s becoming a cliché to suggest that all British high streets look identical these days, with any last pigments of local colour washed away by the identikit, homogenised shopping experience offered by chain stores. But, as we’re constantly being told, we will see greater personal and civic advantages due to a stronger economy and supposedly increasing consumer choice. Nottingham in particular is positioning itself as a (cringe) ‘Retail Mecca’. According to Experian, almost 25 million shoppers visit Nottingham each year to browse the approximately 1,400 retail outlets our city has to offer. In 2007, Nottingham was declared fifth in the UK shopping league, behind London, Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester. We’ve already got two big shopping centres, the Victoria Centre and the soon-to-berevamped Broadmarsh. There are also more niche (i.e. posher) ones in the Exchange Arcade and the Flying Horse Walk. We’re also going to have two brand new ones, in the shape of Trinity Square and The Pod, which will increase the shopping area in the city centre by 28% to 4.3 million square feet. But do we really need more places to part with our hard-earned wonga and how is it going to change the city?

I recently sat in on a job interview at work. In response to the question ‘What are your hobbies?’ the mousy waif opposite offered ‘shopping’ as her somewhat timorous response. As vapid and depressing as this might seem, shopping really does constitute the greater part of many peoples’ lives. On a deep level, retail therapy probably satisfies some innate instinct; a hangover from our hunter-gatherer roots, tacked on to our recently-acquired desire for status symbols and personal identity. But when your city has the same merchandise as every other place, more choice suddenly seems like less.

For example, the only kind of shopping in which I can really invest my time, heart and cash is buying music. I regularly lose whole afternoons bothering the racks of CDs in that nationally respected Aladdin’s cave of vibes Selectadisc. For me, buying music is all about the thrill of the hunt; turning up obscure bands and artists that you take a punt on and fall in love with for the rest of your life. But with downloads, cheap CDs in supermarkets and megastores such as Virgin and HMV, small independent music shops are on the wane. Derby’s last indie record store announced its closure only last month. Its not just record shops; all independently-owned shops are a dying breed in the city, struggling to compete with the high street behemoths. Obviously, the news isn’t all corporate and grim. Hockley, known as the ‘Soho of Nottingham’ (by people who have obviously

have never been to Soho), is a heartland of alternative lifestyle shops, independent retailers and excellent eateries. A smallscale version of Manchester’s Northern Quarter or The Lanes in Brighton, it represents everything that Nottingham shopping used to have and could have again; choice, style, a strong identity, and a sense of place.

So what of the future? It goes without saying that a thriving retail sector is central to the health of the national economy, but it’s not exactly the steadiest foundation to build a city upon, especially if, like Nottingham, you already rely so hard on the night-time economy. After all, when the country goes into recession, the first two things that people cut down on are shopping and going out. Of course, if this country had retained its manufacturing base, our economy wouldn’t depend on the high street. Consider the case of China, whose emergent status as a global political giant is predicated on a break-neck economic growth achieved because China makes things and sells things. We, on the other hand, merely buy things and sell them to ourselves… which is a pretty stupid economic model when you think about it.

Sadly, the concept of Nottingham as a regional manufacturing powerhouse has gone, presumably for ever and the void has to be filled with something. So it’s hello to the vast regeneration of Nottingham, which includes a mind-liquefying £400m investment for the expansion of the Broadmarsh Centre, which should see it triple (triple!) in size. Unless they intend to install something massive and fun, like a tropical-themed indoor swimming pool with wave machines, then I personally can’t understand the need for yet more retail space to be set aside for even more chain stores in Nottingham. You end up thinking about what £400m could do for Nottingham if it was put into local schools, or any one of our inner-city estates, or towards jobs that provided more stimulation than standing behind a till for seven hours a day.

In any case, maybe we’ve already missed the boat. With the exponential growth in internet retailers, you could quite feasibly become an exclusively virtual shopper, with Tesco delivering your food, the Freeman’s Catalogue delivering your brogues and angora sweaters and Argos and Ebay providing everything else at a cheaper price. With a long-predicted threatening to rear its ugly head and the slowing down of UK house prices, the new Megamarsh could quite easily end up as Europe’s biggest pound shop.

What we'd like to see in the city centre

A proper cool flea market - a more boho Viccy Market, run by locals, selling artwork, original one-off clothing, knicks and knacks. Stick it in the old Odeon Cinema on Angel Row that’s been empty for years and it’d be like Afflecks Palace in Manchester.

Continuing pedestrianisation of the City Centre. We like it. We want more.

The new Broadmarsh Centre having its own identity.
We don’t want another Viccy Centre. Actually, we  don’t want the same old Broadmarsh but bigger either.

A year-round international market.
The German Market is ace, but why restrict it to once a year when there’s so much retail space knocking about? A real indoor food court, like the Camden International Food Market, would inject the dose of continental culture developers and locals are craving, without it being ruined by our distinctly uncontinental weather.

More Wilkos.
Always useful and born in the East Midlands. Nuff said.

No more sport shops that don’t sell any real sporting equipment.
Or repetitions of the same chain stores we already have.

No more boasting about being a retail mecca - the real ones don’t feel the need to brag.

A total ban on those adverts on the back of buses from Mansfield that invite the locals to ‘Shop Posh’.
It embarrasses us all.

Some Factoids

Researchers have found that light purple is the colour most likely to induce us to spend money. The least lucrative place to open up a shop is right next-door to a bank. Shopping is about discovering new things; discovering new things is exciting; excitement floods the brain with the feel good hormone Dopamine. So, if you love shopping, you’re really just a well-groomed junkie.

In the UK, goods totalling £205 million were shoplifted last year. This figure only reflects the number of crimes actually detected and prosecuted. According to the Nottingham-based Centre for Retail Research, in 2006 stock loss as a result of crime cost each one of us £72.56.

In 1964, West Bridgford became the site of the UK’s first major out-of-town shopping development. Sorry, that one was a bit dull.

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