Small shops

There is a song I often find myself humming around in my head – “Times they are a changing” by Bob Dylan. I regard myself as a child of the sixties (the song was written in 1964, a year after another Dylan classic: “Blowing in the Wind”) and I still have a preference for sixties music over any other. In my opinion, such songs summed up more than most the spirit of that momentous decade, when times were indeed changing, more so even than those of two of my other favourites of that era: the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

I long ago realized that as one gets older there is a tendency to be resistant to change, which of course is quite a challenge given times are a changing more than Bob Dylan could ever have imagined. Some changes are fairly neutral e.g. fads and fashions; some are for the better (and as much as we might be tempted to criticize, technology has brought us several benefits, not least freeing us to do more “interesting stuff”) and some are decidedly for the worse, such as not being able to talk to someone in the know and empowered to help, and instead forced to deal with anonymous entities that give you what powerful “one size fits all” interests want you to accept.

This morning, one of these negative changes was brought home to me. I needed to buy a book, which I could easily have been purchased online e.g. Amazon. As tempting as this prospect was, I decided to buy it at my local Christian bookshop, which gives much by way of personalized service and customer care that you don’t get online, and really does serve and is part of the community. Then I had to buy some electrical bits and bobs.

On the way to my automatic first choice for such items: B&Q, I told someone of my errand, who directed me to a nearby shop that up to then I hadn’t realized existed. Not only did I get what I wanted there, it was of equal or better value than if I had shopped at my local DIY superstore, and I also had a pleasant conversation with the person serving and received some handy advice. I then happened to notice a butcher shop next door and brought something for our tea, and this also turned out to be a good experience.

Like many of my generation, I can recall shopping at the local corner shops, which between them catered for all our everyday needs, even if it meant having to visit a number of shops to do this. Then came the supermarkets and big stores and along with it the demise of local shops, and these are the places I (and many/most like me) tend to shop these days, without giving it all that much thought.

But more’s the pity! Whether it is about community, service, dignity or whatever, I fear we have lost a lot more than we have gained from having big branded stores take over the market that small shops once nigh monopolised, e.g. due to the convenience these offer and the chance to buy more for less, by going down this route. My experience today leads me to believe there is a place for small shops, maybe alongside big stores and the Internet, but the key is adapting to times that are a changing, although it begs the question – how?

While only a pin prick in terms of the prospect of reversing undesirable changes, the support we can give to these small undertakings is still significant and I am glad I decided as I did. While things will never be the same again and life has moved on, as times change, my hope is we will wake up to what we are losing and resolve not to lose these altogether.

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