by Anna Beveridge
Feeling unwell a few weeks ago, I turned to the magic of Nora Ephron to take my mind off things. You’ve Got Mail was the perfect blend of dazzling co-stars, (Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are forever the romcom dream team) a beautiful New York backdrop and a nostalgic ’90s style. After the usual twists and turns, Meg and Tom end up together happily ever after. All is well.
At least, that’s how I’d felt watching the movie for the first time aged 12. This time, however, something felt off.
You see, the central premise of the film is that Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) owns an enchanting, independent bookstore, The Shop Around The Corner, whilst Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is opening up a supersized chain bookshop, Fox Books, just a block away. Serendipitously, because this is a romcom, Kathleen and Joe have also met anonymously online through, of all things, the ‘Over 30s Chat Room.’ Over email, they start to fall in love, without realising they are business rivals. Ahh, the ’90s.
The films ends up with them getting together, but it also ends with Kathleen having to close her beloved bookshop, as she just can’t compete with the size and prices of the nearby Fox Books. It’s clear how cherished her shop is by the neighbourhood: children flock there to hear ‘Storytime’, locals protest against the superstore and Kathleen’s cause even ends up on television.
When The Shop Around The Corner closes, you really do feel that the neighbourhood has lost a little bit of magic.
Today, we’re even more in danger of losing our local magic. Back in 1998 when You’ve Got Mail was released, as with chat rooms and emails, the expansion of chain stores and brands may have seemed exciting. A symbol of prosperity, retail chains were flocked to by customers eager to take advantage of their affordable prices and wide ranges of products. And retail chains have only continued to grow. In 1992, Starbucks went public with 165 stores. In 2015, it had over 22,500. In 1988 Zara opened its first store outside of Spain. In 2015, the chain had 7000 stores across the world. And it’s the same story with countless other chains.
However, in recent years, mass retail has definitely lost its lustre. Modern shopping trends are proving that consumers don’t want a future filled with a mass retail clogging up our streets with sameness. I was delighted to find that the number of quality independent coffee shops in London has risen from approximately 50 in 2010 to more than 400 in 2020. Over the last four years, clothing resale has grown 21 times faster than the retail apparel market. The number of independent beauty salons is set to increase by 7,800 outlets in the next five years. The tide is turning and we’re bringing variety back.
But the High Street is still vulnerable. Online shopping, high rents, low turnovers and now a global pandemic have all continued to jeopardise our shops. It’s true that even the Fox Books of today are in trouble, but no one is struggling quite so much as independent businesses, which don’t have the cash to weather the storm.
These businesses are the lifeblood of local communities. They give our neighbourhoods charm and personality, and they bring people together. Now I’m not saying your local cheeky Nando’s doesn’t have a role to play. But when you think about what makes your home town special, you’re much more likely to think about that cosy pub that serving locally brewed beer, or that quirky vintage store which always has something you can’t live without.
Perhaps you’re eager to help, but don’t know where to find these independent businesses? Just as Kathleen and Joe jumped on the bandwagon of chat rooms and emails, today we’re all about apps. There are apps for everything, and there’s an app for collecting and sharing special places too. Bimble calls itself the app for great, little places and it is just that! Save your favourite places into lists, complete with attractive photos, directions and friendly, user-written notes. In fact, it’s almost like a bookshelf for your places — Kathleen Kelly would be pleased.
With Bimble lists on topics like ‘Places to Eat in Birmingham’, ‘Beautiful Bookstores in Bucharest’ and ‘Independent Shops in Bordeaux’ you’ll be sure to find plenty of interesting businesses to support. Add some of your own favourite places and spread the word to help Bimble create a lively community of users sharing the places that make us feel special.
Get on Bimble. Find exciting, new places. And most importantly, make sure your own Shop Around The Corner survives.
Crowe, V. ‘Is this the end for the British high street?’. Which?, (2018). Accessed at: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/06/is-this-the-end-for-the-british- high-street/
Ackerman, N. ‘London sees 700% surge in independent coffee shops since 2010’. Evening Standard, Accessed at: https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/restaurants/london-sees-700-surge-in-independent-coffee-shops-a4354216.html
ThredUp 2019 Resale Report, (2019). Accessed at: https://www.thredup.com/resale/2019?tswc_redir=true
Newman, A. ‘UK high streets will have 56,484 beauty salons & hair outlets by 2023’. Trendlife Magazine, (2019). Accessed at: https://www.trendlifemagazine.com/uk-high-streets-will-have-56484-beauty-salons-hair-outlets-by-2023/