The death of the high street and the decline of the town centre have been widely debated, with the finger of blame being pointed to decentralisation of economic activities and changing consumer behaviours. This polarisation between traditional town centres and off-centre or out-of-town modern retail development is misleading however, as much retail activity still takes place in local centres, local high streets and parades and often overlooked locations. The focus on town centres and modern decentralised spaces has produced a lack of knowledge about contemporary retail change in these ‘other’ places of retail.
A paper of ours (Findlay and Sparks) which is to be published in the Scottish Geographical Journal seeks to consider such changes through an analysis of one such location – Shettleston in Glasgow – developing an understanding of how these changes can be measured and understood. Using a longitudinal survey methodology, data on retail stock, churn, vacancy and use can be analysed. The data show complex dimensions and aspects of vulnerability and resilience, compounded by exogenous retail and other social and economic changes.
The paper is available now at the First View site of the Scottish Geographical Journal or a pre-print version of the final manuscript will be available in STORRE on the University of Stirling’s depository.
Official ABI data would suggest a very significant level of retail decline in Shettleston in a decade, but this was not matched by the on the ground survey work focused on capturing nuances of stock, vacancy, churn and use. Shettleston is instead characterised by a significant change in the use of units, with a transition from retail to service uses. Exogenous change (a Tesco development) seemed to stem retail decline in the area, although at the same time it generated considerable upheaval, measured as churn and resulted in a locational refocusing of the area.
The more recent recession has not touched the area in the ways that primary retail locations have experienced, possibly due to the more localised type of retailing involved and the lack of exposure to the failure of multiple retailers.
This paper argues that there is a need to remember that these ‘other places’ of retail matter not just as targets for regeneration projects or ‘historicised pre-war seedy arteries’ from the past but as functioning local places. Tertiarisation of secondary retail locations should be interpreted in terms of the way that it reinforces local high streets and town centres. People express multiple identities in their choice of type and location of shopping and local centres remain important, probably even more so for communities with lower spending power and more limited mobility.