Thursday, March 01, 2018

Blots on the landscape

When I was a kid, the mere idea of Toys R Us going bust would have been utterly unthinkable - though the same would have applied to Woolworths. No sooner had it been announced that its UK arm had entered administration than the post-mortems began.

Top of the BBC's list of "Five reasons Toys R Us failed" was the fact that their stores are big-box units located out of town. As this suggests, consumer trends have changed dramatically in recent years - not only in terms of the rapid rise of internet shopping but also the regeneration and revitalisation of city centres at the expense of retail parks situated on the periphery.

In some ways, the possibility that out-of-town shopping might be dying a death should be a cause for celebration - for instance, for the fact that such units are often accessible only by car, whereas city and town centres are well served by public transport.

However, other than the obvious loss of jobs, it's worth reflecting (as I did three years ago) on the damage that such store closures wreak - or, more specifically, what they leave behind: vast, empty and architecturally offensive hangars and deserted car parks that are hard to repurpose. The greenfield sites on which they were often built are gone forever, buried beneath concrete and tarmac, the damage already done. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: big-box stores are fast becoming "the consumerist follies of the twenty-first century".

Hence, while it's easy to have sympathy for the Toys R Us staff likely to lose their livelihoods through no fault of their own, it's rather harder to view their employer in the same way.

No comments: