Monday, July 06, 2009

Buying stuff isn’t fun anymore

They’ve built a great big new shopping whatsebob in the middle of Bristol called Cabot Circus. It’s really quite beautiful though empty because everyone is at the Banksy exhibition.

Before Cabot Circus stole its crown the pride of Bristol shopping was a three-level indoor job called The Galleries. In a misguided attempt to fight back The Galleries has recently rebranded itself 'The Mall.' I went into 'The Mall' on Saturday morning and it was a bleak experience. Something called Head has taken over what used to be Zavvi (and before that Virgin Megastore) to sell off all the stock at bargain basement prices.

In Head I had a moment of crisis. I was stacking up the CDs and DVDs in a kind of buying frenzy (£4 for Tom Waits, £3 for Van Morrison) when I had a sudden flashback to my student days. Back then buying a CD was a big deal. I worked through the summer holidays and allowed myself just one weekly luxury: on my day off I would cycle to Barnstaple and buy a CD from Our Price. It would cost between £14 and £16 and I would agonise over the choice, then take the prize home in triumph and excitement. I would absorb every note, study the lyrics and place the case carefully in my small collection. That was only fifteen years ago but it was a different world. No mobile, no Ipod, never used the internet. Grabbing handfuls of CDs in Head stands in the same relation to those Our Price purchases as an All-You-Can-Eat-for-a-Fiver buffet does to fine dining: gluttonous, desperate, cheaply decadent.

In 'The Mall' Woollies has still not been replaced so the prime location sits empty. I don’t know what they’ve done to WH Smiths lately but it’s nasty; in fact, it’s turning into Woollies. The High Street clothing retailers are trying to be as cheap as the supermarkets but also pretend that their stuff is superior. Waterstones is hanging on there somehow but on Amazon you can buy nearly any book for a penny plus postage, which also takes the fun out of bookhunting.

It’s not just recession, it’s fin de siècle. Sous les pavés, la plage. Buying stuff isn’t fun anymore. I think I might try to work out how to do gardening and what have you. Something tells me we all need to reconnect with the soil.


worm said...

whilst I have to 'disagree' in the sense that I quite prefer buying things like cds for a few pounds instead of £14, I can totally see your way of thinking. I sometimes find myself disgusted at myself for the disregard with which I treat many of the mp3's I have casually downloaded from everywhere, often only listening to each track once before moving on to other, newer ones.

If you want to reconnect with the soil AND do some seriously decadent consuming, I've found some really expensive uber-earth that costs £645 a pallet

The Old Batsman said...

Yes, I think the price level has something to do with it. As a kid buying records, you'd invest a significant chunk (if not all) of your weekly wage in the item, so the high was well, high.

So maybe you could ratchet up the percentage of your weekly income that you spend on one specific thing. Or buy something that means the same as the records used to.

I recommend this, of course:

Gaw said...

I remember the mood being similar in the early '90s: self-disgust at the previous consumer binge mixed with an enthusiastic embrace of a less materialist way of life.

But I think you're right: this downturn is different in that it's coinciding with a shift in how people consume. We might end up with a different sort of conspicuous consumption, and one which doesn't play itself out in the shopping centres.

There's nothing sadder than a mall that's been superseded by a newer, sexier one up the road. Bristol is a sad illustration of this phenomenon, a sort of developers merry-go-round, And if it stops because the money's gone elsewhere they'll all look start looking a bit sad.

David said...

Spock: After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.

Nothing like a little Spock quote to demonstrate again that I'm every bit as suave and debonair as you think.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Et apres moi le deluge n'est pas? We've just had a huge building boom here in Cluj; now it's abruptly stopped, one wonders if all those fancy shops are going to turn into Poundstretchers and 99p Emporiums. I can heartily recommend the gardening.

Brit said...

So, you can all feel it too, eh? I'm glad.

Anonymous said...

Reconnect with the soil? Brit, have you forgotten tilling and gardening are just artifical social constructs? You should take up hunting and gathering.

There is nothing more depressing and worrisome than a modern teen whose life is divided between mega-shopping in mega-malls and hours on MSN and the Net. The most damnable part is that you know there is something very sick about it but it's not easy to explain why or know where it will lead.

worm said...

gaw said

"I remember the mood being similar in the early '90s: self-disgust at the previous consumer binge mixed with an enthusiastic embrace of a less materialist way of life."

so...what you're saying is that grunge is due a big comeback?


malty said...

Nope, shopping ain't wot it used to be ,new make of laptop, king edwards.