John Londei’s ‘Shutting Up Shop’ series of photographs, about the decline of small traditional independent shops on the British High Street. The book version is published this week.

cropped from 'Florists', by John Londei

Having been in my nearest town today — where in just the last year we’ve lost two travel agents, a florists, the Wade china shop, a large pub, a video rental shop, an opticians; the supermarket, and even a cheapo discount white-goods shop and a bookmakers, and lord knows what else that I haven’t spotted — one wonders if there’s a sustainable future for some whole towns, let alone just the shops in them. We can build new identikit estates and flats galore on disused factories, with the rather hopeful assumption that new residents will then shop locally and thus ‘revive the town’ — but what if they all just zip off in their cars to the new out-of-town retail parks that the Council has so thoughtfully provided, while shopping for luxury and big-ticket items online?

I’m thinking perhaps we need some sort of ‘Tidy Empty Shops’ scheme to manage this decline, where landlords who have empty shops are encouraged to remove from sight the dusty shelves, the end-of-line goods scattered across the carpet, the fading posters hanging by a single blob of blue-tac, and the piles of mouldering post. From Burslem to Birmingham’s Corporation St., a few simple cosmetic changes to long-term empty shops would remove a lot of the ‘visual impression of decline’ from a place.