/ Shopping

Which closed high street shops do you miss most?

So far this year, nearly 650 retail and restaurant brands on our high streets have closed – but which ones will you miss and which long-gone shops do you wish were still in business?

When I bought my first flat in the area where I still live in north London, I was terribly excited.

Aside from no longer having to pay rent to a landlord and being able to really put my stamp on a property (I painted one of the bedrooms a lurid pink, which fills me with horror now I think back), I would be within walking distance of two (count ‘em) multi-screen cinemas, several chain restaurants and a thriving high street with shops I ordinarily had to trek into central London for.

At the bottom end was a BHS, which became my go-to for soft furnishings. Somewhere in the middle was a Dorothy Perkins, a River Island and a fairly substantial Marks & Spencer.

And at the top end was (and still is) the shopping mall. Back then, it had everything I wanted, including a Topshop, a Topman (for gifts), a large Waterstones complete with coffee shop, a HMV, an Early Learning Centre (great for entertaining younger relatives), a department store called Pearsons and, the don of the high street – a Woolworths.

State of my high street

Fast-forward 15 or so years and not one of these shops still exists on my high street. In their place are charity shops, several pound shops, mobile phone providers, barbers, bookies, lots of independents selling market-stall-style polyester, and several more flogging vapes and gaudy mobile phone cases. There are also a fair few empty units.

These days I barely venture on to my high street, unless I need the bank or want something from Argos, Boots, WH Smiths (now home to the nearest post office), H&M or the newish Primark – the only shops still worth going for, in my opinion.

And the decline of my local town centre isn’t, of course, unique – the latest Which? research on Britain’s changing high streets over the past 25 years will resonate with many readers – and it looks like it’s only going to get worse.

The future

This year is already shaping up to be the worst for shop closures since the 2008 crash. So far, nearly 650 retail and restaurant brands on our high streets have closed. Last year saw the closure of 5,855 stores, and a new report from the Centre for Retail Research predicts more than 10,000 will disappear this year.

As well as Maplin stores, which went into administration earlier this year, these could include half of the House of Fraser department stores and branches of New Look, Monsoon, Mothercare and M&S.

The combined forces of the digital age, rent increases and business rates rising above inflation seems to be seeing off the high street, and politicians are so worried about it that they have launched an inquiry into its future.

Personally, I’ve never got over the loss of Woolworths and I’m still in mourning for my local BHS. But what about you? What high street shops do you wish were still in business? And what do you think is the future for the high street? What would you do to save it?


The only way to save the High Street, is to even the playing field with internet shopping so they can compete fairly.

We all know you can buy things cheaper on the internet. But do you know who you are trading with?

I check out unknown sellers before I buy from them. I often uncover a multitude of company names, selling the same products at different prices on different websites, all using the same virtual office address, registered in another country to avoid UK taxes. I have found addresses that don’t exist. A property that no longer exists in the middle of a road?, you can bet there will be businesses using it.

The first thing I do, is a search of the ‘company name’. Then I google the address and check where it is on Google Maps. If I can see a building with the company name on I can be fairly confident I am dealing with a real company. If I see what looks like a virtual office, delving further will probably uncover a seller with a multitude of what looks like small businesses. Registered names attached to these companies often have slightly different spellings to look like different people.

Many of these ‘small businesses’ are not registered for VAT. Many that are, register out of the UK, Luxembourg often comes up. Why should other countries benefit from taxes that should be paid to our government? Taxes that are needed for OUR vital services like the NHS, roads, the police.

Amazon and eBay are rife with these types of traders. Having your own website is much cheaper these days, so many of these traders will have separate websites for each of their ‘companies’.

A legitimate company will sell £100,000 worth of goods and be taxed accordingly. A trader with 20 companies selling £50,000 worth of goods each could be paying virtually nothing as they will be below the VAT threshold and claiming expenses on each one separately. Paying next to nothing in taxes enables them to undercut the competition.

Traders with multiple websites often sell the same item at different prices. Why? To get you to believe you are getting a bargain on one site or are they nearing their limit on other sites?

And they are killing off our High Streets.

Do virtual offices have to inform authorities what businesses are registered with them? If not, they should.

Stop traders using multiple names, make them accountable. I have said before the name at the top should be on all branches of a business so we know who we are dealing with. If they are trading in the UK, then they should be paying taxes in the UK.

I miss many shops. I like to look and examine products before I buy, but I am slowly joining the couch-potato shoppers as things I want are just no longer available on the High Street. Politicians should have looked into this a long time ago, and I do hope they come up with a solution to save what is left of our bricks and mortar stores.

Then there is Amazon………..

I prefer buying from shops where I have the opportunity to see goods. I’m not keen on Argos but at least it is easy to take goods back if there is a problem. Positive comments about John Lewis and other shops don’t help me because there is no local branch.

It surprises me that Halfords has managed to keep so many stores open. The last twice I visited I was the only customer in the local store, which is conveniently close to the supermarket I use regularly. That reminds me very much of the nearest Maplin store, which closed when the company went into administration. I would miss Halfords for odds and ends, such as the puncture repair kit I bought recently.

I agree with Alfa that action is needed to prevent online businesses gaining an unfair advantage over those companies that do trade responsibly.

In our (increasingly polarized?) affluent society, those with money to spend can afford to drive to shopping malls out by the ring-road, while those without money to spend won’t be able to sustain high street shops anyway, apart from the likes of Cash Converters, Cash Generators and assorted charity shops.

So we I think we must expect our town centers to evolve as office and residential locations, with few retail premises other than bars, restaurants and convenience stores for the office workers and any residents who aren’t on basic assistance.

This pattern was exactly demonstrated by my visit to a conference in the center of Charlotte, NC, USA in 2015.

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As the saying goes use it or lose it, with the fall in customers using bricks and mortar stores the rising costs of business rates and employing staff it doesn’t make economical sense to stay on the high street.

Everyone likes a bargain but if the majority of people keep buying through the internet then they only have themselves to blame when all of the shops disappear. If you ask the majority of those who say they miss the big stores when did they last go in and make a purchase they probably can’t remember as they have been ordering online as it is more convenient.

If we lose the high street shops this will put a large number of people on the dole queue which means a reduced tax income for the government so less money available for the maintenance of important infrastructure such as the NHS and social projects.

So buying through the internet actually does more damage to the country’s finances just so that you can save ten quid on a purchase.

It’s partly self inflicted misery by the consumer and sky high overheads for the retail shops and the government have been warned enough times over recent years but chose to ignore it until now because suddenly the exchequer is going to suffer with the loss of income.

Typical of politicians they have left it to the last minute and by the time they have finished pontificating and coming up with useless ideas it will be too late.

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Phil says:
23 June 2018

Maplin. They were expensive but the only place you could get some of the things they stocked.

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Like Duncan, I used Maplin from the early days, when it was a small mail order company stocking electronic components at affordable prices. We had a discussion about their demise in The Lobby. I would suggest looking at CPC as an online equivalent of Maplin, unless you are looking for specialist products.

At present, Maplin is the company I miss most. I still miss having one of the better Comet stores and dread a visit to Currys PC World because if something goes wrong they don’t seem to understand about consumer rights.

Phil says:
24 June 2018

Ahh the famous Concorde catalogue. As with Jessops I think Maplin’s big mistake was moving out of their mail order niche and onto the high street. It meant stocking a lot more everyday items which would have a wider appeal at the cost of the more specialist stuff.

Lesley Taylor says:
24 June 2018

C&A. Still have trouble shopping for clothes.

Shops exist primarily to make their owners a profit. With inadequate profits they will close; they are not there to offer a social service.

Then they are there to provide a means to view goods. Some things I would want to see before I buy – non-utilitarian clothing for example (I’m quite happy to buy underwear and socks on the net) – like a suit, upmarket shoes, shirts, furniture, for example. But for other goods – lawn mower, microwave, washing machine, tv say – I don’t need to see and feel them; I’ll look at Which? reports, reviews, my own research. Should I regard a shop assistant’s knowledge and recommendations as better than these?

Finally, they are there as a local distribution centre for goods. But these days, with such an efficient delivery network to your home or click and collect and many outlets this is no longer necessary.

We, the consumer, have caused the demise of many shops by either buying online or putting specialist shops like the fishmongers, grocers, sweet shops and butchers that were a part of every high street out of business by going to the supermarkets.

I suggest that it will be those shops that offer products we need to see and touch, assess the size and quality, appearance, before we buy, along with those outlets that also provide things of small size and quantity – pens, envelopes, shoelaces – and specialist shops like pharmacies that will survive. Department stores will shrink to such items. Most shops will need to congregate in less expensive areas away from the town centres that local authorities have viewed as cash cows.

Online shopping is here to stay, as consumer have gravitated towards it in their hordes. Other retailers need to keep up-to-speed and either join in or provide something the onliners cannot offer, or simply find ways of competing on price. I bought a new lawn mower recently. I researched online, chose a make and model, visited a local retail outlet who handled the make but didn’t keep it in stock. They would order it and gave me a price that was £80 over the online price. When I pointed this out they gave me a new price just £7 above and got the order. I was happy with that and presumably they were.

The point about high street shops is if they are too expensive, for whatever reason, I and I’m sure others will simply shop elsewhere where it is cheaper. I do not owe anyone in the retail trade a living.

Which shop do I miss most? Probably the traditional ironmonger where I could rootle through their shelves, but half a pound of 4″ nails, one hinge, a tap washer, not prepacked in plastic and carrying a silly price-tag.

There’s still a shop like that in my vicinity on the outskirts of Newquay! ☺️

&think how much all that wretched plastic packaging adds to the slick of the stuff in the oceans! ,☹️

I wonder when it will be possible to buy more products direct from a manufacturer? We have online purchasing, we have good international delivery organisations, and many stores do not hold stocks themselves but simply pass your order for execution directly to the main distributor. This could be the manufacturer.

So for many products, do we need retail suppliers at all, adding to the cost with their overheads, wages and profit?

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I have tried to buy many products from manufacturers and while they have been helpful in identifying which products to use they have generally asked me to purchase via a retailer. Some manufacturers are helpful in maintaining a list of distributors on their websites.

Potentially a company could handle manufacturing, advertising, sales, extended warranties and repairs but not many do this. Apple comes to mind.

It’s a pity that John Lewis and Waitrose have joined the companies that are struggling: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jun/27/john-lewis-to-close-five-waitrose-stores-after-warning-on-profits

Is a rebranding exercise a good idea if a company is struggling? I don’t know but there have been examples where this has not helped.

Dixons Carphone are struggling too: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jun/21/dixons-carphone-profits-fall-amid-warning-of-no-quick-fix

At this rate our high streets will be left with charity shops, coffee shops and wine bars.

Costa reported a 2% drop in sales – so maybe no sanctuary in those.

“Our” high streets? They are not mine. They are simply rows of shops in the centre of towns, for example. This seems to be a business model that is seriously in decline, caused largely by consumers changing their habits, cash-strapped councils extracting as much tax as possible and landlords responding to property prices by increasing rents.

Maybe we should restore town centres for largely residential use, with the necessary services to support that, and expect other retailers to find less expensive locations. Fighting progress (change) rarely works.

I agree, Malcolm. I see the future of high streets and city centres as pleasant places that many people will visit. There are good reasons why they are not ideal for conventional retail use. When shopping it’s necessary to transport goods home, so that results in parking problems and poor air quality.

One viable solution might be for retailers to repurpose their shops for display of larger items, allowing them to be delivered or collected from a retail park with convenient parking.

There is an interesting article in this month’s magazine about the high street, with similar views.

Which the government should ban all of!! (The ills that you mention.) And cap rents; and not just for charity shops!

Out-of-town shopping malls and megastores are for those WITH CARS.

I recognise that high street, Melanie. I have known it from the 1950’s onwards and it has been forever changing. I had relatives in the area and it was a good place to go shopping and out for a treat.

Book-ended by two UndergrounD stations and with a railway station in the middle of the High Road connecting to the City, the East End and the docks, the shopping centre was extremely accessible. There were plenty of bus and trolleybus routes to the surrrounding suburbs plus a frequent bus service to Southend via Ilford and other Essex towns. There was also a long distance Green Line coach service from Hertford to Guildford via central London. There were daily coach services to Clacton-on-Sea and other home counties towns that stopped en route to pick up and set down passengers.

As well as BHS, M&S and Woolworths there was a large department store [Bartons] and a sprawling branch of the London Cooperative Society which sold almost everything except food [it had local shops for that].

There was a large theatre [Empire] which later became a TV studio for ATV, a large cinema/theatre, a dance hall, two smaller cinemas on the periphery, a large pub at each end and in the middle, a garden centre, and a stall market plus dozens of barrows in the side streets. There were a number of tea shops, and cafes, numerous tailors [Dunn & Co, John Collier, Weaver to Wearer, Burton, Alexandre, plus several local tailors and outfitters] and about a dozen shoe shops [K Shoes, Freeman Hardy & Willis, Saxone, Manfield, Dolcis, Barratts, Clarks, etc].

Among the products sold by separate shops were electrical appliances and fittings [every light-bulb tested before sale!], homewares, hardware, ironmongery, corsetry, hosiery, millinery, bridal outfits, jewellery, drapery & bed linens, knitting wool, furniture, carpeting & lino, wallpaper & decorating materials, sports goods, bicycles, musical instruments & sheet music, gramophone records, stationery, confectionery, timber, and coal.

For food there was a large original Sainsbury’s with separate counters for each commodity, International Stores, David Greig, and UK Tea Co, and several greengrocers and fruiterers. Not far away there was an open-fronted shop that only sold eggs.

There were the branches of five banks, branches of the Halifax and Abbey National building societies, plus three estate agents which acted as agents for other building societies. There was also a gas showroom and an electricity showroom and later a British Telecom shop. There were three chemists [pharmacies] – Boots and two independents – plus just one ladies hairdresser and one barber’s [with seven chairs all in use daily, a bookies runner, and a cabinet of requisites for the weekend!].

There was hardly anything that could not be bought or ordered from a specialist supplier plus the variety offered by the large stores.

Reflecting the traditions of the times, the only take-away was a fish & chips shop but there was nowhere to buy a sandwich or a beaker of coffee. The only places to buy plimsolls or gym shoes and kit was a solitary sportswear shop that also sold football boots and balls, tennis balls and rackets, cricket gear, and boxing gloves. For fishing tackle and bait you had to go east to other places.

To provide relief, there were three public toilet establishments with commodious facilities and attendants on hand.

Over the years traders came and went as tastes and fashions changed. In the 1960’s television rental shops appeared and later disappeared. Habitat had a smart modern store for a few years. Record shops came and went, a rash of travel agents took up vacant shops, and eventually the out-of-town malls and sheds, and then the internet, took their toll, so now it is but a shadow of its former self. Woolworths went [replaced after it moved to the mall first by C&A and then by Wilko], M&S vacated their upper sales floor and reduced the size of their food hall, BHS had its day, and the burger chains, takeaways and phone shops have filled some of the gaps in the frontages. On my occasional visits the high street still seems to be busy but it is a very different experience now.

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