Friday, April 27, 2007

Achosion I Laweni #11

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

An addition to the list inspired by the developments detailed above...

#11 - The arcades

Starbucks, HMV, Gap, H&M, WHSmith, River Island, McDonalds, Primark, Boots, KFC, Starbucks, HMV, Gap, H&M, WHSmith, River Island... Take a stroll down the central shopping streets of any unfamiliar British city and you'll invariably get a sense of deja vu. The capitalist ethos, we are told, is all about consumer choice. I beg to differ - it's all about homogeneity.

To be honest, Queen Street is no different (though you are at least more likely to encounter a tall dreadlocked rapper drumming on a bin here than you are in, say, Sheffield). But stray slightly off the beaten track and it's quite another story.

You see, the Welsh capital is blessed with a whole host of arcades - too many to remember, in fact. Each one takes you away from the busy street into a wide corridor lined with all manner of unique and (significantly) independent shops and cafes, eventually bringing you out at unexpected locations where you stand blinking in the sunlight and noise as though awakened from a fantastic dream.

If pushed to name my favourite, I'd go for Castle Arcade - home to Cardiff Friends of the Earth; Cafe Minuet, an Italian which even after recent expansion is still tiny; Troutmark Books, a well-stocked second-hand bookshop; Madame Fromage, a sizeable delicatessen with adjoining cafe; and Oyster, a fair trade and ethical clothing store which has recently branched out into events promotion (including the film 'Iraq For Sale' and an Attila The Stockbroker gig).

But there is trouble brewing. The ongoing St Davids 2 development, which has meant numerous buildings being razed to the ground (one friend recently commented that it looks as though we've had a visit from the Luftwaffe), is destined to transform the city centre, bringing with it the promise of jobs, income and a greater number and range of shops for the consumer.

But will there really be greater choice? Ominously, it looks as though the opposite will be true. The survival of those independent shops which make the arcades what they are is under very real threat from the influx of corporate bullies. And even where that threat is not direct, it is nevertheless hugely significant; Spillers, for instance, though not actually situated in an arcade is right next to a couple, and may be forced to close down simply because the redevelopment opposite is set to send rent soaring.

What's worse, the developers seem to be taking pleasure in the prospect of crushing independent retailers under their jackboots. Here's Michael Brown, Investment Director for Helical Bar: "If you walk down Oxford Street, you do not see niche record stores among the chains. We warned Mr Todd [Spillers] that he is standing in the way of progress. The rent in their present location will at some point be unaffordable". Yup, that's right - the enforced closure of the world's oldest record shop would constitute "progress". Thanks for enlightening us, Mr Brown, you complete James Blunt.

Make no mistake, then: the danger is both clear and present for the arcades, in so many ways the jewel in Cardiff city centre's crown. You can register your support for the Save Spillers campaign, set up by Owen John Thomas AM, here - but it's surely only a matter of time before the redevelopment impacts on other independent retailers. In the face of increasing direct and indirect pressure from the chains, most will not be as fortunate as Spillers in terms of the strength of support on which they can count - and if they go then the arcades will most likely die with them.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I have a really soft spot for Spillers and realise that the music I now listen to - and have done for the last twenty or so years - has been directly affected by the place. As a teenager, being part of a community that saw Spillers as it's heart was infectious and ensured that music acquired at this holy spot was, and is, reverred.

I bought a 12" of Blue Dress Day by the Third Uncles at Spillers. It was a time when records were vinyl and you queued outside a shop for everything from new album releases to gig tickets, taking comfort - and learning the latests music gossip - from those around you. Now we sit at home with our credit cards and never have to talk to another human being.

Although I understand the need for progress in all things, the loss of independent stores will be one of the great blots on society our generation will be responsible for. The fact that Pret are looking for their first site in Cardiff can only be a further signal of this.

Looking at your later post, it appears you are just getting out of Dodge in time! Good luck with the move.