I consider myself lucky to live in an inner suburb of Melbourne. One distinct advantage is the ‘village’ lifestyle, with several groups of strip shops a stone’s throw away. I love the fact that I can wander down the street in the sunshine (occasionally interrupted by an unpredicted gust of wind or shower… it is Melbourne after all) grab a coffee and stuff for dinner. I may run into a couple of people I know or find myself distracted by something new in a boutique window. Many shop assistants know me by face or name and what I might want. It’s nice.
During the early days of lock-down, I went to my local shopping strip to pick up some essentials. It was deserted. I will never forget the eerie feeling of seeing the stores closed and the footpaths empty. It was an alarming glimpse of my local community’s outlook if retailers can’t or don’t rebuild. Every ‘for lease’ sign I have seen since has filled me with sadness.
There is a place for online shopping. Over the last few months, it was largely the only choice. Now that we all know what cabin fever feels like, shoppers may be less inclined to embrace it as a long term trend and the cold, transactional experience that comes with it. A computer cannot replace the euphoria of a shop assistant handing you an item you would never have picked yourself, only for it to fit perfectly. Or spy a plate of food on a nearby table for you to say, “I’ll have what they’re having”. The smell of fresh coffee and the delicious looking croissant you didn’t know you needed until it was right in front of you.
As stores begin to open up for business again, we must consider how we want to shop in the future. JB Hifi CEO Richard Murray offers some hope to independent retailers in strip centres, believing many shoppers will be inclined to support local traders rather than hurry back to shopping centres. Multi-national retailers occupy a significant number of strip stores and will hopefully drive customers to our local shopping communities for smaller retailers to benefit.
I want my local community to not only survive but thrive. I am done with the impersonal experience of online shopping and can’t wait to get out there, rain, hail, or shine. I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces welcoming me back, knowing I am doing my part to preserve the shopping experience I value.
There is a saying; ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. My thought is that when that child has grown, we want them to ‘raise’ the village. By working in the stores, socialising with friends, frequenting our cafes, and starting small businesses of their own. This won’t happen if all we do is shop online and there’s no village left to support.