Are charity shops encouraging an indie retail resurgence? So, Belfast is one of those cities that’s just starting to develop a little confidence. About time too. For reasons we are all too aware of, it’s a city that has only recently seen the benefit of investment and tourism. But like many other locations, the recession has bitten and the high street is looking pretty upsetting.
In the midst of the gloom though, charity shops have moved in and spotted an opportunity. Within a 5 minute walk in Belfast City Centre you’ll find Oxfam (x2), British Heart Foundation (x2) and Barnardos shops. As the big names roll out of town in a blaze of administration, charity shops have literally popped up.
There’s no doubt that charity shops are not the most attractive tenant option. But at a time when almost a quarter of retail units in Belfast are empty, needs must. While some might bemoan this development, I believe it’s having a positive impact in one particular way.
In recent years, our high streets have become ever more homogenised and in Belfast, the independent retailer has all but disappeared. We’ve come to expect, if not necessarily want, big name convenience. Charity shops are giving us reason to recall what a joy it was to have difference, variety and choice on our high street. Walk in their front door and there’s the hope of something different, the thrill of a find, the luxury of uniqueness. I’m not saying that everyone adores charity shops the way I do, but consciously or subliminally, charity shops are telling us it’s ok not to be the same!
Pop-ups for all kinds of enterprises are springing up in Belfast. Cottage industries that celebrate craft, hand-made and local are flooding new and emerging city-centre markets. Recessionary times always seem to encourage a spurt in creativity and entrepreneurialship-as I said earlier, needs must. But the emergence of the charity shop as a staple within town and city centres has certainly made it easier for all of us to envisage a less ‘Stepford’ and more fun, varied retail experience. It’s time for the indies to make their mark again.