Precinct to PC shift causing a huge chain store reaction

HMV store on the High Street, Sheffield. The chain is currently in administration and faces possible closure.
HMV store on the High Street, Sheffield. The chain is currently in administration and faces possible closure.
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THEY were once the cornerstones of our high streets.

Familiar retail icons with seemingly untouchable empires across the country.

Woolworths, Comet, Jessops, Game, Dixons, Birthdays, JJB Sports, TJ Hughes and now HMV.

All going, gone or being rescued.

Like the 78s, 45s and cassettes that came and went from its shelves over the decades, the HMV store itself has become obsolete.

Once it led with the new and innovative, now it’s a victim of the latest big thing.

Big-brand names continue to fail and fall as sales stall and shopping tastes evolve onto the internet.

With dozens of chains finding the going tough, who knows who it will be tomorrow. WH Smith and Boots are among those feeling the historic shopping shift from precinct to PC.

But does it matter?

In the short term with jobs being lost and small, local suppliers losing orders and money it does.

One such supplier is Neil Anderson, Sheffield writer and publisher who has written on the changing face of retail Sheffield and now finds himself a victim of the latest seismic shopping shift.

He could lose thousands of pounds to HMV.

“I’ve got a vested interest in the sad demise of HMV and the changing face of the high street,” said Neil.

“My publishing company, ACM Retro, have been supplying them with books and DVDs for the past four years. It’s smaller companies like us that regularly suffer when a big high street brand goes down.

“They hold unsold stock we’ll never get back and we’ll be bottom of the pecking order when it comes to unpaid invoices. It happened to us when Zavvi went under a few years ago.

“HMV tried hard to change their business model in the face of downloads and the rise of Internet giants like Amazon but it was too little too late. But my own research into the changing face of retail in the city shows that change, however depressing it might seem at the time, has been happening for decades.

“In the 1970s city centre’s retail trade was at its strongest in recent decades. Atkinsons is the only big independent retailer that survives.

“Household names of the era are long gone. HMV actually arrived in Sheffield in 1982 in the midst of high unemployment, the demise of the steel trade and the looming Miners’ Strike.”

This is not a passing phase and the retail geography of our towns and city centres will continue to change as internet shopping grows and the hands-on, footfall-first high street experience withers.

But the changing city centre is nothing new. Each generation grows into a retail era that becomes familiar, with names and brands that become part of our way of seeing the world.

From Coles Corner to the Hole-In-The-Road every era is equally shocked when one of its trusted social reference points is lost.

No-one in the 1960s could have imagined a Sheffield with Meadowhall and without stores like Cockaynes, Pauldens, Redgates and Walshs - let alone the hundreds of independent, family-run shop that made the city what it was.

In September 2012 The Star reported that more than a quarter of shops in Sheffield city centre were standing empty – 26.1 per cent of city shops were then vacant, the sixth worst figure of any city or town in Britain and a three per cent rise on the previous year.

Sheffield Council insisted the figure was so high because of shops which are empty and awaiting the Sevenstone development - but 13.8 per cent of stores are still empty even outside the area covered by the scheme between The Moor, Pinstone Street and Barker’s Pool.

Things will continue to change.

Sheffield artist Pete McKee worked in HMV for 10 years from 1984.

“In those days HMV was the place for music. We had two shops in Sheffield and another at Meadowhall. The staff were all passionate about music and records and the market is still there but it’s all gone online. I know that from my own experience buying downloads rather than CDs.

“We have all embraced this digital technology but we don’t know where it will lead us.

“Only one thing is certain, there’s no going back now.”