When I first blogged at the start of the lockdown, along with everyone, I longed to be free to hit the high street and shop till I dropped. But that is not how I feel today now that I can. In trying to analyse where the urgency has gone, I think there are a several reasons and they all jumbled up together:
Have I got used to an alternative way of shopping?
That’s certainly true. The daily delivery of anything from a pair of trainers to a tube of grout has been a pleasing interlude in a working from home environment. From now on there will be fewer things I will buy on the high street and that includes dog food, wine, washing tabs, etc., anything bulky or heavy. Why would I revert to struggling home with this sort of shopping when it can be delivered to my front door?
Am I anxious about going into shops?
No. But it was interesting when I decided to drive to Somerset for the day last week. It was the first time I had driven my car in 11 weeks – odd and unprecedented. I also felt temporarily uneasy about leaving the safety of my little zone where I had lived and breathed for 3 months. For a moment, I could imagine how it must feel to be an older and more timid person venturing out. I am pleased to report the feeling soon passed!
Do I think it will be as fun and relaxing as before?
No. Because it seems different retailers are setting different rules – so how will we know. Which shop has said if you touch an item of clothing it must be quarantined for 3 days afterwards? Which shops have changing rooms? Do I have to travel in one direction in store rather than wander around and what if I want to double back, am I going to be shouted at? I am naturally a great apologiser – bump into me in the street and I’ll be the one to say sorry, step back and tread on my foot and I will joke, not to worry I have another. I imagine this new style of shopping will have me apologising constantly.
But, the bigger issue for me is the way retailers have dealt with lockdown
My local high street is the Kings Road in Chelsea and it has been nothing short of shocking. Whilst the announcement of lockdown was sudden and unprecedented, even global brands have been far from exemplary in managing their retail outlets. Whilst there have been few people on the pavements, those taking their daily walk passed only bleak shop windows some completely bereft of any stock, mail and flyers piling up on the doormats, and not a single light on. They had the air of totally abandoned businesses, not businesses obliged to hibernate for a while.
Each window carried its own hastily typed message about COVID closure stuck clumsily with sticky tape. Two particular examples stood out: Nike – a world leading brand had an A4 sheet on the door which started peel off after a couple of weeks and attracted dead flies; Vision Express which carried instructions for customers to email or phone for news of their prescription. I was one of the unfortunate customers whose prescription was caught in the maelstrom of COVID. My urgent email went unacknowledged and my phone calls rang until I lost the will to live. I will never forgive this brand for managing my needs so badly.
I cannot understand why retailers did not invest in better signage or put up messages of support and hope. One or two did, Boden was a good example, encouraging people to have heart and take care. The fact that enormous expanses of expensive bare windows were not used to rally people and to remind them there would be sunny uplands again, is a travesty.
Other examples include my hair salon, quite upmarket with several branches, it boarded up its windows as if it were expecting a repeat of the Notting Hill riots. To all intents and purposes, it looked as if it had closed down. Then there are the restaurants, the sector so badly hit, but why leave your flagship premises looking so desolate. The Ivy was a prime example. It had even taken down its Instagram-able fake flower bower – might just as well have left it, they were hardly going to need caring for (there’s unintentional pun in there!)
Which brings me to one of my biggest gripes. What did the trees do to deserve to die? Extremely expensive shrubs and trees planted outside smart stores left to wither because no one bothered to ensure they were watered. Fabulous shaped balls of box hedge outside Linley’s on Pimlico Road and 6 nine-foot tall, beautifully shaped bay trees beside Tiffany’s – all dead. Perhaps some of the blame should rest with the big retail estate owners who NEED the shops to flourish again such as Grosvenor and Cadogan – could they not have organised for the trees and flowers on their streets to have been kept alive? So maybe that’s the answer to my apathy about the big retail return. I will not easily forget those brands who did not try to care. Loyalty is hard won and easily lost. Or, in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien: “faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens”