Monday, 16 February 2009

Shopocalyptic: Bird poo and life after the church of consumption.

The Reverend Billy is magnamamous in victory: Now that everybody has stopped shopping, the Reverend takes time out to explore the plus sides of 'life after shopping'. Yes the 'shopocalypse is at hand':

"And we Americans stand in the wreckage of miles of pavement, empty billboards, dead super malls… We want to change our church's name because our communities are bravely changing around us. Our neighborhoods and Main Streets, shuttered by the big boxes and their big banks, are now blossoming again. There are record start-ups each week, usually family businesses. People are meeting their neighbors and are trading with each other, skill-swapping and loaning tools. This last Christmas, indy shops out-performed chain stores. We shopped local. Local-a-lujah!

The question is, has this happened in the UK and has it really even happened Stateside? The Guardian (09/02/09) reckons business start-ups are at record low levels and we've certainly stopped shopping, or slowed down at least. I could find you some figures to back this up but I'll reference what I call the ' Cardiff-seagul-muck-relative-target-expansion-phenomena' instead.

This well established method for gauging retail sales relies on the layout of Cardiff's main shopping artery, Queen St. (see picture). Essentially, we have in Cardiff, the typical uk high street, what the NEF might call 'clone town Britain'  - with stores on both sides and save for the occasional bank or cafe, it is just shops - what else would we want in our city/town centres? We also have people, lots of people -  and these are a constant. You hear reporters say on news channels that 'shoppers are staying away from the highstreet' but as a city centre resident I can record the same steady flow of people down our highstreets on weekdays, if not weekends.

The reporters are right though, there's not many shoppers amongst them. How do I know this - do I have detailed figures on footfall? Pray no, I have the qualitative gold dust that is a marked increase in the number of people I've seen who've been Bird-Pooed. Yes, the trees that run down the centre of Queen St are home to Cardiff's charming seagul population and when people aren't shopping they stay nearer the middle of the road. Having been, literally, on the end of this stuff years ago when walking down Queen St, I know exactly how these people feel.

When it happened to me, my jumper was ruined, so I went to the nearest shop and asked for a carrier bag - they told me I had to buy something to get one. And standing, covered in white muck, aged 15ish, skint (with no access to infinite personal debt) and with my adolescent pride shaken, amongst friends, I said 'No thankyou' and went on with my day.

Lesson: No matter the consequences of not shopping (on debt, for the sake of it, as religion), no matter how much bird-poo lands on your face because you choose the middle-way on Queen St - don't feel guilty, because in your hour of need you may find you have to pay to take sanctuary in the church of consumption..

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