Whitley Bay’s “upward trend in retail shopping”
Anyone who follows my blog posts will see how frequently I draw from the great resource that is local newspaper websites. With the downturn affecting every high street in one way or another – most obviously with the collapse of Woolworths, and the subsequent arrival of new shops in 600 former Woolies sites - the retail industry has probably never had more coverage in the local media than in 2009.
While some of the articles that I find in the local press are interesting and informative, others are unintentionally comical – most usually for the quotes that they attribute (not always wholly accurately, as I know from experience) to local luminaries, or the drama that they bring to an apparently mundane story.
Last week, for example, writing about the ‘son of Woolies’ chain Alworths, I mentioned the priceless Wiltshire Times article in which the vice president of Chippenham Chamber of Commerce apparently made his thoughts on the town’s proposed Poundland store abundantly – and rather pompously – clear:
“This is a flagship location on the High Street and Poundland would not set the right tone for the town and we already have one similar shop in Borough Parade that caters for the people who would use it.”
Prior to that, one of my favourites, that I mentioned back in July, was the Waltham Forest Guardian’s classic non-story: “Loughton High Road branch of Woolworths not bought by Argos”. On that basis, there are presumably 200 local papers that can run the story “Local Woolies not bought by anybody”…
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this, but the prompt for this particular blog post is a recent article from Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle that makes reference to one of those 200 or so Woolies that is yet to be reoccupied – up here in Whitley Bay, a town on North Tyneside that’s recently had a pretty torrid time, shops-wise. Following on from its shut-down Woolworths, and the closure of the prominent Co-op store in 2008, the early part of 2009 saw Whitley Bay lose two of its other most important shops – M&S Simply Food and the stationer T&G Allan.
However, read the Chronicle’s gushing quote attributed to Bill Midgley, the chairman of Whitley Bay Chamber of Trade, and you could rather be forgiven for thinking that something new and exciting is happening to enhance the town’s shopping experience:
“It will make the area more attractive, confirming the upward trend in retail shopping in the town centre.
“We understand the importance of the town centre being a pleasant place to visit.
“An initiative like this can only help attract more visitors and increase trade for businesses in the town.”
So what is ‘it’ that’s going to bring Tyneside’s shoppers flocking to the coast? (And what, pray, is ‘retail shopping’ as opposed to any other kind of shopping?) Well, if you can contain your excitement…
“The 36 hoardings which cover the boarded-up windows of the Co-op building, at the junction of Whitley Road and Marden Road, will be painted with a special design that reflects the seaside traditions of Whitley Bay.”
Yes, readers – it’s a whole article about the frontage of a vacant, boarded-up shop being painted, and how this will (in the words of someone else quoted in the piece) “make Whitley Bay a more attractive place to visit, and so contribute to the sustainability of the High Street economy”. While it would be churlish to not see the mural as a positive step, it’s clearly nonsense to suggest that shoppers will be attracted to visit Whitley Bay because a particular empty shop unit looks more attractive than it did before.
Indeed, it would be unfair on the hardworking retailers that remain to suggest that it’s all gloom and doom in Whitley Bay – look beyond the most visible signs of decline and it’s a place that still has a great deal of charm, and a stunning seaside location that no amount of money can buy. Crucially, there are still a good number of independent shops[broken link removed] doing OK, such as the quirky and useful F E Maughan hardware store, and investment (finally) coming in to revamp the seafront. Meanwhile, the Whitley Bay Playhouse has recently reopened after an £8.5m rebuild, and the appealing Park View Shopping Centre, opened in 2004, still has a decent complement of big-name retailers, including Peacocks, Superdrug, Iceland, Boots and Home Bargains.
The rather silly article in the Chronicle is not terribly helpful in that it emphasises – yet somehow trivialises – the challenges that Whitley Bay is genuinely facing as a retail centre, while saying very little about its tangible positive features. Bring in some new quality retailers to complement those shops and attractions that already exist, and that really will be a local news story worth blogging about.