Ask any adult in Britain, no matter what their age and they’ll be able to tell you stories of their favourite high street stores that no longer exist. The joy of getting a pick ’n’ mix from “Woolies” or the excitement of flicking through the Index catalogue was all part of the retail experience.

If you speak to anyone old enough, they’ll be able to tell you about shopping in Kwik Save before it had introduced barcode scanners. Staff would be so knowledgable about the store’s inventory that they could recall the price of just about every item on sale and key it into the till.

Many high streets in London continue to thrive by adapting to changing consumer demands

Other former names have made their way into the cultural zeitgeist, such as Del Boy Trotter’s “Man at C&A” line in Only Fools and Horses.


Despite these fond memories, the state of the British High Street is regularly discussed in the news as experts, business leaders, politicians, and the public exclaim about the loss of key retailers in their town centres.

But is it fair to claim that the high street is in “decline”? Or is it just that businesses are adapting to the changing needs of consumers and the high street shopping experience is evolving as it has done for centuries?


Supermarkets that we know today have not always existing, though many of the brands have been around for many years. Until the second half of the 20th century, most Brits bought their food from locally owned, independent businesses. Their meat would come from a butcher, their bread from a baker, and vegetables from a greengrocer.

It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that the first big supermarkets began to appear, taking market share away from these smaller businesses. The convenience of being able to get everything under one roof and park your car right outside was an appeal that many took advantage of.

In more recent years, convenience stores like Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local have sprung up, catering to the changing demands of shoppers that want to do smaller, more regular shops.

Independent butchers and bakers have also enjoyed a resurgence in the last decade or so, as consumers look to buy more locally produced and artisanal products. Communities like Sutton Colfield’s Boldmere and Chester’s Hoole are great examples where these smaller businesses can not only survive, but thrive.

Casinos and Betting Shops

Betting shops have been a big part of the British high street for decades, attracting sports fans who want to have a flutter on horse racing, football, tennis, and the many other events that take place each day.

Physical casinos have also played an important part of the nighttime economy, particularly since the passing of the Gambling Act 2005. The smaller ones typically only offer electronic games like slot machines, video poker, and electronic roulette, while the bigger ones have human dealers at tables and dedicated rooms for games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha hi-lo.

For much of the last ten years, experts have been predicting the decline of both betting shops and casinos as online companies like 888 Poker have built up a huge market share in the country. These online poker sites, casinos, and bookmakers offer convenience and a wider variety of options to their customers over the land-based alternatives.

However, for the last 10 years, casinos and betting shops have continued to serve their customers with similar numbers of branches.

Glasgow is another city with a thriving high street

Electrical Stores

Like we have seen with online poker and casinos, the internet has changed the way that we buy many physical goods.

In decades gone by, you’d need to visit a shop like Comet, Currys or Dixons to buy electrical goods like a hi-fi system, a washing machine, or a freezer. You’d also likely be renting your TV and VCR from a company like Martin Dawes.

Today, almost everyone owns their electrical goods outright, and only Currys lives on after its merger with PC World.

Cheaper and more convenient alternatives like and the ability to order online and collect in-store from companies like Argos have completely changed the way these types of products are bought.

Given that few people impulse purchase a washing machine, high street storefronts don’t necessarily make much sense for these businesses.

Experiments like PC World’s “Go Instore” feature bring a retail experience to online customers. This could see further changes to the electrical goods market.

Coffee Shops

As electrical stores have been closing, coffee shops have been opening up on our high streets. A mix of international chains like Starbucks and Costa have expanded at the fastest rate, but independents have also faired well.

Several retail analysts have highlighted a change in demand from consumers over the last decade. Instead of focusing on buying more material goods, many are choosing to focus their spending on experiences instead.

This has been great for coffee shops which have become the go-to place for friends wanting to catch up over a hot drink and a sweet treat.

They’ve also become popular places for freelancers and other professionals to hang out and work. Walk into almost any coffee shop and you’ll nearly always find someone with a laptop open in front of them.

Gamers have also been known to frequent coffee shops too, playing games like Fortnite, online poker, and Hearthstone on their smartphones while they enjoy a soy latte.

In Decline?

There is no doubt that the vacancy rate in many local high streets has increased dramatically and there is much more to be done to address this issue.

Notwithstanding, the British high street is certainly not “dead”. It is a reflection of the ever-evolving demands of local residents with stores opening, closing, and changing their offering to meet these needs.

We can see it with betting shops. Casinos and coffee shops which have catered to an increase in demand for “experiences”, and the fact that buying habits for groceries have almost come full circle.