Monday, February 27, 2017

Vanishing shops

Look at the photo at the top of this blog. Usually I write first a blog and then I look whether I have a photo that fits it or I take such a photo. But sometimes it’s the other way round: I have taken a photo and then I see a blog in it. Like now. Lately I went to a shopping centre in a nearby town for taking photos for my series of people passing open spaces (see my blog dated Dec. 19. 2016). However, I failed to take such photos that were interesting enough. Why? If you look a little bit longer at the photo you may realize what the reason is: This once lively square, which is in the centre of the town, is empty. Only on the left we see a woman walking away with a full plastic bag. The bicycle stand in the middle is also empty. We see one shop in the picture, on the other side of the square: It’s closed, not only now, but definitively. Maybe it has been moved, maybe it has been closed forever. Nonetheless, there are yet other shops around the square, outside the photo, some closed and some open. There is even an advertising board on the square, trying to entice customers to one of these shops. But whom if nobody is there?
Just because of what isn’t there, the photo is interesting. The emptiness refers to what is changing in society. However, for interpreting the photo we need some background knowledge. A first thought might be that the economy is going bad. Indeed, many shops and store chains go bankrupt these days. Nevertheless that can’t be the real problem, for the economy is on the way up and people are buying more than ever before. So, that’s not what the photo says. But maybe the shops have moved to the edge of the town, or people prefer to buy in bigger towns or in immense shopping centres in the middle of nowhere. It might be possible, but you hardly find such enormous shopping sites in the Netherlands. People still prefer to go downtown. So, also this can’t be the cause of the empty and desolate shopping centres. No, there is another reason: people have changed their behaviour. Times are changing.
Let’s walk through an average shopping street in the centre of a town and look at the shops. What do you see? Clothes shops, shoe shops, beauty shops, food shops and supermarkets, opticians, book shops, sometimes a department store, cafés and restaurants, and the like. In short, you find there shops where it is fun to buy; where it is an advantage to go in person (trying on clothes, shoes); where it is nice to browse (clothes, books); for going out (restaurants) and what more, but hardly where you – till not so long ago - went to buy something you simply needed and where you had to go because there was no alternative, although you found shopping quite boring. However, now there is an alternative: The Internet. So what you see today is that many shops have vanished from the streets because more and more people buy on the Internet. Examples of shops that have disappeared are photo shops and shops for electronics. In fact, you still find shops for cameras and other photo things and for electronics here and there, and so it maybe be also for other types of shops, but most are big stores that sell also via the Internet. Small shops that can’t give this service don’t survive and are replaced by big specialized stores, unless these small shops have a special advantage. Only shops with goods that people prefer to feel and see, or where they like to browse, plus everything related to food can survive in these days of the Internet. The old way of daily shopping has changed. Of course, the arrival of the Internet is just one aspect. People also increasingly prefer big supermarkets instead of going to the baker’s, butcher’s, greengrocer’s and the like – actually already since a long time –, but for a part shopping has become sitting behind your computer and browsing and buying in the virtual shops of the Internet instead of going to the real shops in the streets. Society is changing and so are our habits, as always. And that is what the photo on the top of this blog shows: A vanishing way of shopping and so a vanishing way of life.

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