Ian Jack writes here about his surprise and pleasure on seeing a sign announcing that a new hardware store would be opening soon, and offers some broader reflections about the decline of both village and high street shops – the fate of HMV is a recent high profile example. My first response was to reach for my inner Spiked Online reader (as I did here, writing about Totnes’s resistance to a new Costa) and reject the assumption that the decline of the traditional shop, the move to online retail, is necessarily a bad thing.
These developments are not imposed on us – they arise from the choices we make. Many people bemoan the loss of, for example, bookshops – but (setting aside some controversies associated with Amazon) I welcome the way in which the internet enables me to buy obscure and out of print books which I’d never find in my local Waterstones. Ian Jack describes how his mother used to come back from shopping ‘with two shopping bags filled mainly with baked goods and tins.’ Lugging heavy shopping around isn’t fun, another factor behind the growth of online retail.
So – if there’s a problem in these developments, I don’t think it’s (perhaps) so much a problem for the consumers who have actually shaped these changes in the first place, but for those who work in the sector. There are fewer jobs in shops, more in warehouses, where working conditions are likely to be more pressured, less human. I know someone who worked in terrible conditions in a warehouse, and whose health suffered as a result. Shops, unlike warehouses, have some incentive to provide a vaguely pleasant environment.