Waterstones has opened three unbranded bookshops, which may appear to look like independents. The move has apparently left some shoppers feeling tricked. But how do you feel about them?
When I was growing up, there were very few chains on my hometown’s high street.
There was a Boots, a Dewhurst butchers, a Freeman Hardy & Willis, a Woolies, Waitrose and WHSmith.
The rest were independent shops that had been run by the same families for generations.
Sometime in the late 1980s, Dorothy Perkins arrived to much fanfare. Then a branch of New Look.
These days, that same high street looks like pretty much every other across the UK, with well-known clothes stores interspersed with Costa Coffee and Starbucks shops.
Now when I’m visiting a high street I’m not familiar with, you can bet your boots I’ll be drawn to the independent shops; the little boutiques selling quirky tops and frocks or the homeware stores purveying irresistible cushions and kitchen gadgets I had no idea I needed.
Had I been visiting either Rye, Southwold or Harpenden, there’s a good chance I would have wandered into the towns’ little blue-fronted bookshops that have come under much fire this week.
The quaint little bookshops that are actually owned by Waterstones.
Hypothetically, would I have gone in these shops had I know they were actually Waterstones?
Why would I when I can head to any other high street and find one, and the flagship store in Piccadilly (which is worth a visit, by the way) is just a Tube ride away?
In fairness to Waterstones, each of these shops did have a sign in their window saying they were run by the company and locals were well aware of the situation.
By why not brand them as Little Waterstones instead, so you know exactly what you’re getting?
Spell it out
I felt the same when I discovered the Hoole + Harris artisan coffee shop in Crouch End, was, in fact, run by Tesco.
I doubt I’d have chosen Tesco, which has since sold the business on, for a hot beverage when there are independents around.
I’ve got nothing against the likes of Waterstones or Tesco per se, it’s just that in a time when increased business rates are threatening the very existence of independents, I’d rather support them.
I figure the big boys will be able to look after themselves.
And when I do buy from an independent, I want to know it’s just that.
Do you want your independents to be bona fide independents? What sort of shops do you head to on the high street? Independents/local shops or big chains?