In the coming week we will see “non-essential” shops beginning to reopen in our high streets. Just as in supermarkets there will be social distancing, routes will be planned to aid circulation and the number of people “in store” will be regulated.
However even with the restrictions on the “shopping experience” it will be a relief to many to see them reopen. Retail fulfils a social as well as a practical function and from everything from browsing through a bookshop to buying clothes not only do the purchases reflect what we think of ourselves, the process of making them is for many (for all the complaints!) a form of recreation.
For as long as Horsham has existed it has provided a market place and nucleus for social interaction for a wide area and long may that last.
As well as the market and activities in Carfax masterminded by Horsham District Council we are fortunate to have a real mix of independent shops and International chains; pubs, coffee shops and restaurants alongside leisure activities.
That mix is widely appreciated and acts as a draw for those out of area.
However as we are all aware the traditional shopping experience is evolving. On line sales are becoming ever more efficient (and could even, through drones, become same day delivery) and are taking an increased share of the market. For very obvious reasons this has increased during the pandemic.
The shift does have implications. While they may be economically more “efficient” and many find them very practical, on-line sales are harder to tax, employ fewer people and provide less of a “leisure experience”.
On-line sales have already had a profound impact. Many independent stores only survive now because of their on-line offering and the nature of shopping has changed: we expect to see (and use) more coffee shops. There is also likely to be more of a leisure focus in town centres (noting the “new” Cinema already in Horsham).
The extent that this shift happens is in part up to us. While on line purchases of course have a role I think people also value the ability to shop in person and the social experience it offers. I hope that as “non-essential” shops reopen after a very difficult period they will see a huge amount of support.
Lastly a word of thanks – many food stores from farm shops, to independents to supermarkets have not only remained open throughout the pandemic but have gone out of their way to provide help and assistance to key workers and those who are most vulnerable to Covid. The early days of “panic buying” seem, happily, a long way distant and a huge shift in where people buy their food (as more people remained at home through the day) was ultimately successfully managed. We are very grateful to all those shop owners, retail employees and delivery drivers who have and continue to make that possible.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Quin visiting Jengers Craft Bakery, Billingshurst after they won a “Sussex Life” award, pre the Covid pandemic.