The Changing Face Of Small Retail Communities

Post date: Jul 21, 2013 4:02:09 AM

As the son of a small business owner, who spent my first 19 years living behind the family shop, it has saddened me over recent years to watch the "local corner shop" close down and move into large retail shopping centres.

Yesterday, I was out with an old friend of mine in the South Australian seaside suburb of Semaphore and what I saw there encouraged me that there is still hope for small retail communities - as long as they are prepared to embrace change.

I lived in Semaphore 15 years earlier and before I left the area, many of the shops there were moving to a nearby shopping centre, or they were simply closing down because they could no longer continue running at a loss.

They were those small clothing, furniture and "Nik Nak" outlets, that simply could not compete with their big retail competitors.

I remember wondering if Semaphore would end up being just another suburb that people drove through on their way to "somewhere else" and this saddened me because I knew what a wonderful area it was to live in.

Well, to say that there has been a change in the area is an understatement.

Even though it is the middle of winter and yesterday was freezing cold, Semaphore was full of people and businesses there were thriving.

The cause of the change was quite simple - it had become a "destination" for families and friends instead of somewhere you drove through to get "somewhere else".

Most of the clothing and furniture stores had closed - and had been replaced by cafes and food outlets, all full of people having a meal on a wonderful day out.

The "Nik Naks" were all still there, only now, instead of being sold in "Nik Nak" shops, they were being sold inside the cafes as "add on products" to enhance the customer's dining experience.

At the end of the main road, what was once simply a grassed area you walked across to get to the jetty and beach, had now been transformed into a playground and small carnival area, where children could enjoy themselves while their parents looked on.

It was great to see that "sleepy little" Semaphore is now a thriving community and where there were once empty shops and disgruntled shop owners there are now profitable businesses.

Seth Godin - in his book Tribes - talks about groups working together for the common "good" - if you are part of a small local retail community, is it worth getting together with other shop owners in this community to see what can be changed to encourage more people to come to it?