Friday, 28 August 2009

IS SHOPPING A DEAD ART?

© Copyright Pam Fray and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
It's no laughing matter, of course, but Margate High Street officially has the highest rate of empty shops than any other town in the UK. It's dead, finito, completely devoid of joi de vivre, it is an ex-parrot. According to the stats, 24.6% of Margate's shops are completely empty, but even the remaining 75.4% ain't much cop, if you ask me. In my view, if you pin all your hopes and aspirations of a town on its shops, then it's bound to be a recipe for complete disaster.

That's part of the problem with Margate. For far too long, it's been reliant upon a steady stream of customers and shopaholics to keep the town alive and vibrant, especially since the closure of Dreamland Theme Park. Whether it be Primark shoppers, people feasting on Maccy D's, or chavs bottling each other outside Escape or Bar 26, Margate has unfortunately become solely reliant upon shopping to define its own sense of identity, and since the recession has left people continually out of pocket, is it any wonder all the shops are shutting down?

What erks me is I'm constantly reading letters in our local newspaper from people bemoaning the creation of Westwood Cross as leading to the downfall of the High Street. What a load of tosh. I mean, sure, it's certainly a factor, but I personally support the migration of the bigger chain stores to Westwood Cross (like Primark, for instance, when's that gonna go?). I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to having shops in Margate, but if we're clearly living in an era where franchises and monopolies are making every High Street in the country look bloody identical, isn't it perfectly rational to be pleased to see 'em bugger off?

No matter where you go, in every High Street up and down the country, there is always a McDonald's, a KFC, a Gamestation, or a Dominos. This great nation of shopkeepers has reduced itself to adopting 'clone towns' after being invaded by hugely wealthy corporate behemoths. This, to me, is depressing, because it crushes all sense of competition from the smaller businesses or independent shop owners trying to get a foothold, and also makes everything homogeneous, boring and identical. If Margate, let's face it, has lost its sense of character and its personality as a town, then losing all these corporate retailers to Westwood Cross - particularly the big outlets - could give it a unique opportunity to reinvent itself in a completely different light.

We need new shops, yes, but we need them to be different. After all, it is only by making Margate the antithesis of all the other High Streets in the country that it can truly set itself apart and renew its appeal as a seaside town. This, in my opinion, means the shops need to be completely unique and independently-owned. This, believe it or not, is already sort of happening in the Old Town Centre – Helter Skelter, a retro furniture store, is opening soon, as is the Cup Cake Café – but nothing much else is seemingly being done in the High Street, itself it's just being left to die on its arse.

Even so, I don't think that the answer to Margate's problems is just opening more shops. It also needs more venues to host events or festivals (e.g. Broadstairs Folk Week) – it needs more wine bars, bistros and restaurants. It needs a venue to compete with Wetherspoons, or maybe another nightclub to compete with Escape. If there's more competition, more people will visit Margate, and the more venues there are, the more events there will be to host. Soon enough, if we inject a little bit of quirkiness and fun into Margate, improving our nightlife, I'm sure our little seaside town will soon be buzzing with activity.

I mean, why not have a Margate Comedy Festival, where stand-up comedians can perform in places like the World Bar or even the Rokka bar? However, I'm not gonna lie, some of these venues in Margate need to be more affordable, because the drinks are ridiculously expensive in some places. Also, though I accept the Turner Contemporary is definitely gonna bring some potential to reinvigorate Margate, more effort needs to be made to appeal to a wider range of people, not just the chin-strokey boho sorts that the Turner Contemporary is gonna pull in. Everybody needs to be catered for, even those who don't happen to appreciate modern art.

Generally, however, I feel if Margate models itself as an arty yet unpretentious equivalent of those beautifully quaint Belgian seaside towns, then it won't go far wrong in my book. It's got a lot of promise, despite things looking very bleak at the moment, but I must stress that my vision of how Margate should be reinvigorated is probably very different to everyone else's. Not everyone will probably agree with my stance on forcing the chain stores to congregate at Westwood Cross, for instance. But I honestly don't think that wholly relying upon shopping outlets is a good idea - unless, of course, those shops happen to add a bit of colour and magic to the town. After all, a town needs more than shops, people. It needs spirit.

3 comments:

  1. Or just move everyone to Ramsgate! Look, you knew I was going to say it!

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  2. TDC , haha i like to think the local goverment have a little more brain power than me , but clearly they dont, so they build a shopping center in the middle of an island with very poor access, this just cocks up travel between the three main towns during the day, where as blue water is between 2 motorways M2-M20 good thinking, now that all the trade has left margate a ghost town we are building the Turner art gallery that no one wants, margate is the oldest seaside resort in England so make it the best,simple.. I just cant wait for that white elephant to sink

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  3. I don't think my bank balance is large enough to join the millionaire's playground just yet, ECR. Give it time. Haha.

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