A friend said to me not too long ago that the future of our high streets is the independent shops sector. I wasn’t sure, surely you need some of the big chains to get people visiting the high street. Many people think that securing a Primark would be the answer to all of Stockton’s prayers for instance. But I’ve been on a journey recently and I am beginning to wonder whether my friend was right.
You see I have begun to discover the strength of Teesside’s independent retailers and I am astounded at what I am finding. A few years ago there was a street called Baker street in Middlesbrough, it was fairly run down and many shops and buildings were empty. The wonderfully innovative Middlesbrough council decided to earmark it as a new “cool quarter” and offered incentives for new independent retailers to move in. 3 years later, Baker Street is buzzing and most definitely, the coolest place in town. With it’s vintage shops like Vintagious rags, cool foodie spots like Chilli Cake Deli and the mouth wateringly good Baker Street Café; this quarter has something for everyone and has completely regenerated that part of the Boro. Other councils have run similar schemes. Stockton council introduced its Enterprise Arcade, taking over a large high street shop and giving new retailers the opportunity to try out a business idea. Many of the business were so successful, they then relocated to their own premises, filling Stockton’s streets again with retail life. I have also just re-discovered the old yards of Stockton and they are honestly like finding a diamond in the dirt. These historic streets such as Hambletonian yard and The Ship Inn Yard are bursting with historic character and are filling up with micro-pubs, gift shops and vintage shops, making them a new favorite destination for many.
As well as aiding regeneration, there’s another reason why I am choosing to shop at independents. They are an alternative to big business. I don’t love big corporates. There are too many stories of tax avoidance, zero hour contracts, unethical supply chains and huge corporate payouts for me to feel a strong bond with our big chains. They are in my opinion too focused on profits. Many of us are concerned about non-British nationals taking employment in the retail sector too because of the low paid jobs and easy access. Eventually though, if the retail market keep asset stripping, it could soon turn to fully self operated tills, computerized shelf stackers and holographic sales people, meaning there wont be many jobs left for anyone, regardless of where we were born. It is therefore imperative that we have local businesses, businesses that will always employ local people, always have a human to give you specialist advice and always be there to greet you with a friendly smile.
So why not do your bit for Teesside and say Yes to Independents too, after all it’s probably the future of our High Streets!