With only a week left until Christmas Day, minds will be turning towards getting the wallet out and buying that special someone that special gift. But where will you buy it from? Shopping in Chester and the surrounding area has been put under the microscope once again recently thanks to a poll by readers of The Independent newspaper voting Ellesmere Port as the fourth worst place to shop in England.
Chester is also at fault for letting standards slip in recent years, having fallen from fifth in the UK shopping league to 51 at the beginning of the year. So why are Chester and Ellesmere Port in such decline?
Perhaps Chester’s great location is its downfall. Liverpool is easily accessible by bus or train within an hour, and Manchester is just over an hour away by train or car. Chester simply cannot compete with the size of these cities. They have multiple shopping centres, larger store offerings from high street favourites, such as River Island, Sports Direct and Topshop, along with much more modern facilities. That being said, Chester still has its own unique shopping experience to offer – the rows.
However, in a realistic world, can the charm of the rows really sustain a shoppers interest in the long term? I wouldn’t be too sure. True, they offer a unique charm, but the quality is not necessarily there to support a shoppers whims. Couple that fact with the retailers that are filling the vacant shop spaces in Chester in recent months, and you can begin to understand where the problems may lie.
Other than the annual Christmas market that runs until December, 14, there has been one other noteworthy addition to Chester’s shopping ‘experience’, and that is the introduction of a new Sainsbury’s store on Watergate Street. It is the newest in a long line of supermarket retailers to come to the city in recent times. Within the space of three weeks in November the city saw a new Asda megastore open at the Greyhound retail park, replacing the cinema and bowling alley, a Waitrose superstore open in Broughton, replacing B&M and several other small independent retailers, and finally the aforementioned Sainsbury’s replaced the Tessuti furniture store. There are now over 10 supermarket chain stores within a three mile radius of Chester’s city centre. A startling fact. So unless we are going for high street fashion for a loved one this Christmas, the chances are we will be forced into a supermarket at some point.
Another growing demographic on the area’s shopping landscape is the bargain store. I’m sure we all love a good bargain, and these ‘bargain’ shops can offer that in spades on occasions, but in Chester is there really need for four? What does that say about the Council’s ambitions for Chester’s shopping scene?
Of course, there is some cause for hope for us as consumers in Chester. The Northgate development seems to be plodding along making slow, but steady, progress. It promises to provide a brand new state of the art shopping complex and is currently trying to entice department stores like John Lewis and House of Fraser to provide big name appeal for consumers. This is all well and good, but can we as shoppers really wait that long for a new shopping valhalla? Why won’t the council use the host of empty shops that are already dotted around our city’s centre instead of plowing millions of pounds into a new development?
However, the onus may not be on the council alone to save our city from shopping Siberia, as a report by the BBC reported 964 store closures in the UK between January and October this year. In a study by Internet Retailers Magazine, it was reported that in 2013, UK shoppers forked out £91 billion on online purchases with that figure set to rise to £107 billion by the end of the year. In that study, the online director for John Lewis, Mark Lewis, highlighted that online purchases contributed 30 per cent of all sales in 2013 for the retail giant, with that figure expected to rise by the end of this year. These figures look damningly to us as consumers. Are we the reason our high streets are dying? The fact of the matter is there simply aren’t as many of us venturing into town and buying in-store as there used to be. Many of us work full time during the week and don’t get a chance to go shopping until the weekend, but then you get into town on a Saturday afternoon and you are faced with ravaging hordes of people looking for the next best buy. If you’re anything like me you turn around, drive home, put your feet up and do it all online while you watch TV. No throbbing feet, no rushing to the car to renew the parking ticket and no fuss.
The situation may seem dire after digesting all this information – the supermarkets are taking over, more shops are closing than ever before, and we are all contributing to the death of our high streets while waiting for developments on multi-million pound projects to come to fruition, but we can make a difference. I for one plan on making more trips to town and less time sofa surfing on my phone if it means the revival of our fantastic city centre. After all it has the looks it just needs a helping hand. Who’s with me?