This week, we are linking with our Johnston Press sister titles across the UK to urge readers to Shop Local, Eat Local, Play Local.
Our town and city centres are the lifeblood of our local communities and vital to their success in the future are the local independent retailers - some four million around the country - who offer a unique range of goods and services.
Over the next few weeks and months, we will be focussing on some of those vibrant businesses as well as explaining just how you can play your part, but the essence of the campaign is just as our slogan says - ‘Shop Local, Eat Local, Play Local’.
Here, editor Paul Fisher encourages us all to buy something extra from our high street...
Almost every high street in the country has been hit by the recession in recent years, and it is not only the small independents which have felt the crunch, with many once household names now also missing from our shopping experience.
Woolworths, Adams, HMV have all disappeared from town centres... and many of these sizeable units remaining depressingly empty, with larger retailers seemingly less confident to take up prime spots, which at one time used to be so sought after.
A number of factors have contributed to this, not least the internet.
How many of you have popped into your local branch or independent to ‘check out the goods’ as it were before looking online to see if you can source the item cheaper?
There are even apps available for smartphones which allow you to scan the items’ barcodes and it will instantly take you to the site offering the cheapest price. I haven’t downloaded such an app, but know plenty who have. And honestly, who can blame them?
Given such austere times aren’t we all on the look out for a bargain?
When you get new windows fitted, do you go with the first quote you get? No. You’re told to get at least three – and pick the best price/quality.
Surely what people are doing on the high street is only just an extension of that?
So, clearly there is a responsibility for stores to be competitive.
But what I also look for when shopping locally is something extra to what you can get online or at an out-of-town retail park. Friendly and attentive service and expert advice, are just some of the attributes I look for.
Indeed, ask a long-standing local independent why they have survived for so long and no doubt all of these will be on their CV.
The ability to adapt in ever-changing times has also helped keep them at the heart of the shopping community. Plenty have also responded to customers’ requests.
The ‘can’t see what you want on the shelves? We’ll order it in for you’ attitude and generally going the extra mile all help to keep return business.
Many have also embraced new technologies, not least the internet which as we have already touched on has often been blamed for permanently pulling the shutters down on businesses, but it has also helped to open up a whole new market.
We, the shopper, also have a responsibility to our high street. We can all moan about the fact it is dying, but let’s get behind our independents.
We all know that sausages from the butcher taste better than the pre-packed ones you can buy off the shelf - but we often skip the local friendly butcher because it’s easier to get everything in one go.
So, I would urge all who read this to do one little thing to support their town centre. Just try to buy one extra item a week from your high street.
Whether that’s a fresh loaf of bread, a new shirt, or a gift for a loved one. Collectively, if we all did this little thing we can make a difference.
This will certainly be my aim and would urge you all to join me – look forward to seeing you in the local butchers soon!