The High Street Prior to Pedestrianisation – Taunton, Somerset
For years the bustling high street was synonymous of all British towns and cities. Within this central area there were similar shops yet there was still enough space for the town to have such enterprises that reflected the areas own unique culture.
In recent years these businesses have been put at high risk. The building of out of town shopping centres, the expansion of department stores and supermarkets, and the pedestrianisation of central areas have resulted in these previously busy areas becoming less frequented by the local people.
The price wars that have been fought by the large supermarkets and department stores have made it virtually impossible for the small businesses to compete against them. It is so much easier for the public to do their weekly shopping in one store that is supported by a large car park with main roads leading into it.
Sadly many towns and cities have now started to lose their character as every shopping mall tends to have the same shops and this has led to the disappearance of many small businesses. The high street is no longer the heart and soul of the town some businesses do remain but not to the same extent as they once did.
The county town of Taunton in Somerset has experienced the same trends as everywhere else in the country yet appears to be holding on to its character better than most places. The high streets has always been home to the major department stores. There have been national chain stores such as Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and Boots but there may has also been room for locally run department stores. This was the case in Taunton where the locally owned Hatchers department store has proved just as popular as the national stores.
The family run store has been operating in Taunton since 1774. Unsurprisingly it does not have the range of products that its competitors have, but the company knows the local market so well that it is able to supply what the local population needs. The population trust the store and respond by visiting it regularly.
The strength of the local relationship is the same with grocery stores. The oldest grocery store in Taunton is the County Stores which has been in operation since 1832 and once had such a fine reputation that it was known as “the Harrods of the West Country”. The store has kept itself operational over the years by selling local produce that is grown and reared in Somerset’s fields.
The high street is full of local bakers mixing with national rivals such as Greggs. The bakers around the country have been put under pressure by the supermarkets, but in this part of the country certain pastries, such as Cornish pasties, are so popular that the local bakers have no problems surviving.
The supermarkets have also put the same pressure on local butchers. However, with the local small butchers able to source locally reared beef, pork, lamb, chicken and game, the numbers of the local butchers in the town has remained at a healthy number.
A feature of the old high street was that every large urban area had an independent shoe shop. Today there are major sections in the large department stores and shoe shops seem to be disappearing. In Taunton Omah Shoes have been operating since 1983 and they are able to offer unique styles that are not on offer in the larger national stores.
The high street was once the home to small gift shops and record stores. Taunton has an area just off the high street called Bath Place. Down this secluded alley that runs for around 100 metres, Bath Place Records survive along with a number of unique gift shops that would never be seen in the country’s larger shopping malls.
Taunton has moved many of its larger stores to the outskirts of the town next to the junction of the M5 motorway, where there has been the creation of a shopping mall area. Some businesses in the town have been affected yet there does appear to be a happy balance between the old shopping areas in the town and the new. The people of the region still crave to shop in areas of the town that represents the heart and soul of the region.