Almost not on the high street

I am sure that we all have a list of jobs that we would not want to do. I won’t name all of mine now in case you’re reading this over your breakfast. However, one that might surprise you is that of a small shopkeeper.

To my mind, the small shopkeeper is one of the unsung heroes of the community.

I know from my Dad’s experience of running a newsagents when I was young, that they have to work long hours and most spend a considerable part of their evenings and weekends doing the finances and admin. Add to that the number of events that are not under their control, such as parking restrictions and charges, roadworks, the weather, changes in trends, and you have more barriers than you would normally see at the 110 meter hurdles in the Olympics. Those not fortunate enough to own their shop also have the worry of what will happen when the lease expires, and (as has been made clear to me on many occasions recently) all have been seeing an inexorable rise in their business rates.

As if this were not enough, they have to compete with some of the biggest companies not just in the country, but sometimes in the world. Every time a small shopkeeper identifies a niche in a particular market there will be a major player just waiting to use its financial firepower to join the fray, but at a lower cost.

Over the years, small shopkeepers had become adept at meeting all of these challenges and surviving. But then came the Internet.

At a stroke, the major retailers were able to overcome possibly the last unique selling point that the small shops provided – the ability to get hold of those one-off items that are rarely bought and so were not worth holding in bulk in a large store. First to go were the bookstores, followed quickly by music stores and fashion outlets. Today, our high streets are more homogeneous than they have ever been. Of course, we bemoan the fact that everything is the same – whilst at the same time increasing our usage of Internet shopping, and thereby making the problem worse.

In the Bracknell area, we are luckier than most. We still have high streets, especially in Crowthorne and Sandhurst, where small shopkeepers have been able to survive and give us the type of diverse shopping experience that many parts of the south-east can only dream about.

If we want to keep this diversity, the solution is in our own hands. The next time we feel the urge to shop over the Internet, think again and ask if the product you want is available from a local store. In many cases, thanks to Bracknell Forest Council, the parking is free, and (you never know) you might find something else that you never would have known you needed, if you had just been looking at a screen.

Small shopkeepers are the linchpin of our neighbourhoods. Let’s go out of our way to support them.

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