No wonder our high streets are struggling – they’ve become a shopping assault course.
In my second Planning job one of my clients was a big shopping centre. One of the insights we came up with was that this out of town complex was simply shopping made easier than the high street – it was warm, dry, flat for easy pushing of pushchairs and had free parking. It was also seen by many women as being a lot safer place to shop, chiefly because the security guards and zero tolerance policy towards buskers, beggars and chuggers made it less intimidating and consequently more relaxing.
Anyone who has recently tried to make their way on foot through a city centre will know that ‘relaxing’ is not really an appropriate word to use. Since one of my busiest clients is based in Leeds city centre I’ve been taking the opportunity to run a few errands after meetings but I regularly have to face an assault course of big issue sellers (who, to be fair, are the most polite of all of them), MRS clipboard ladies, lucky heather sellers, buskers, the-end-is-nigh religious types, novelty woolly hat cart traders, leafleteers and chuggers.
Last week in Leeds I was approached by twelve different variations of the above in the time it took me to walk from the car to M&S.
The chuggers are worst of all. Again last week I was walking along when out of the corner of my eye a 6 foot something bloke built like a tank strode towards me shouting “hey, lady in the black coat!”. My first thought was not ‘goodness me, who is that interesting and charming man?’, it was ‘Help’. When another dirty great chugger bloke tried “hey, lady in the stripy grey trousers” a hundred yards further along I’m afraid my reply was most unladylike.
Shopping is supposed to be pleasurable. Not scary. And until city centres put their foot down and clean up their high streets, more and more people will decamp to the safety and reduced stress of out of town shopping. Which means that the stores will follow them.