Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The changing face of Main Street Ireland

Last week’s news that Dublin’s Road Records would be closing for good caused a predictable wave of sadness and regret. Another record store bites the dust. Another essential component of the Dublin music community disappears. Another small independently-owned and operated …

Mon, Jul 19, 2010, 16:11

   

Last week’s news that Dublin’s Road Records would be closing for good caused a predictable wave of sadness and regret. Another record store bites the dust. Another essential component of the Dublin music community disappears. Another small independently-owned and operated store goes out of business.

That last point is one which doesn’t just apply to record stores. As Niamh noted, “it really feels like a part of Dublin has died along with the closure of Road”. The same feeling applies to streets up and down the land. Small shop owners are putting up the shutters and throwing away the keys. Social and economic changes mean they just can’t compete with the bigger stores. The streetscape is changing and we don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.

And it’s not just happening in cities. Driving around the west and northwest at the weekend, I lost count of the number of villages where the only shop now is the local petrol station. Main streets which once had a few thriving wee shops are now empty, with all commercial business kept to the outskirts of the town. It’s probably not as pronounced in the cities because the trade continues despite the change of owner – foreign brands or chains simply move into spaces which were once occupied by indie businesses – but the overall trend remains the same as the small, local store gives way to the bigger operator where economies of scale and profit margins are all that matters. Staying in business is hard work – see Alexia’s post about her mother’s bookshop, for instance – but some continue to persevere in the face of diversity because of customer loyalty.

“Customer loyalty”, though, is easier said than done. When a shop like Road closes, we wring our hands and bemoan the loss. Of course, we’ll say, there are reasons why we didn’t shop there any longer ourselves, but we’re still sad to see ‘em go. We wanted them to remain because they provided an intangiable feel-good factor. But the feel-good factor about having an independent bookstore or cafe or grocery on your Main Street will never be enough to keep those businesses open. If we’re really serious about local, independent shops, the ones which are different from the pack, we need to spend money in them. And at a time when value-for-money is the new national mantra, that may not be as easy to do as we might hope.

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