City on the Up?

Eastgate StI frequently use this blog to bemoan the frequent Gloucesterian tendency to belittle and run down our fair city. Earlier this week I posted a blog highlighting the wonderful summer events and how they should inspire our pride. I was delighted therefore to (somewhat belatedly) stumbled upon an article in the Citizen where the managing director of Central Sony Centres, Paul Watkins, wades in stating that Gloucester is a city on the up and “we must be more upbeat and not so negative”. Hear, hear Mr Watkins!

These comments came after the Citizen reported the closure of Currys in Eastgate Street, stating that there were no electrical retailers left in the city. He obviously took issue to that as the Sony Centre is alive and well and trading just a few doors down from Currys.

Clearly Mr Watkins’ comments aren’t entirely altruistic: he is a business man and wants some free publicity for his store. But what he also realises is that the constant moaning and griping about the city is corrosive to his business and to all the other businesses in Gloucester.

It is simple: if all that anyone ever hears about Gloucester is negative, why would they come into the city? If people don’t come into the city existing stores close and retailers will not be clamouring to come in and fill the space. Gloucester gets into a downward spiral from which it is difficult to escape. We have been in this downward spiral for a number of years and we finally seem to be taking steps to reverse it: what we don’t need are saboteurs.

Responses to the articles are predictable and fall into two main categories. The first is parking charges. People are always bleating on about how parking should be free to encourage people into the centre – after all, it is free in the out of town retail parks. This suggestion has merits, but it still wouldn’t, on its own, encourage people into town unless it is worth going to in the first place.

Free parking is an unrealistic expectation, especially in the current climate. Parking land is not free and there are very few town centres where you don’t have to pay to park. It is true that there are places where you get well and truly ripped off for parking (NCP in Ladybellgate Street springs to mind), but the council car parking charges are consistent and, I think, not unreasonable.

The second response is harder to disagree with: If you want to buy goods it is much harder to get them back to your car in town and impractical if you are using public transport; much easier then to use out of town retail parks and often both cheaper and easier to shop on-line.

This is true for large items: what Mr Watkins refers to as ‘big box operators’. Maybe it is appropriate for them to thrive in out of town retail parks. But for smaller goods this isn’t really such a problem. If you are looking for small electrical goods (cameras, laptops, phones, accessories), clothes, jewellery, books, CDs, DVDs, stationery, cosmetics, etc surely the benefits of going into town are far greater.

In town you have a wide variety of retailers to choose from and you benefit from small, independent, boutique traders that you wouldn’t find elsewhere. You have a variety of cafes, pubs and restaurants that you can relax in to break up the shopping and, unlike on-line shopping, you can hold the goods in your hands and try on clothing before you buy.

So let’s make peace with the fact that there is a place for retail outlets both in the city and on the outskirts and concentrate on encouraging the right kind of retailers into the centre to make it a pleasurable shopping experience. The only way we are going to achieve this is to do as Mr Watkins says and “be more upbeat and not so negative”.


About Darrel Kirby

I am what I am.
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