About 1990, I was in Nasons department store in Canterbury High Street for reasons I cannot recall.
“Staff announcement: Gordon Pettifer to linens please,” a plummy female voice suddenly intoned over the public address system. “Mr Pettifer to linens immediately please.”
An image of a John Inman type from Are You Being Served flouncing his way across the store to attend to this emergency in the linens department popped into my mind.
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It seems apposite to compare the BBC show, which ran from 1972 to 1985, with Nasons. The show described a world in which working in a department store was both respected and sought after.
Frank Thornton, for example, played Captain Peacock, a fastidious former military officer.
Those days of certainty and prestige in the retail world seem far removed from our own as we hear time and again of major chains as well as independents falling by the wayside.
Nasons is the latest to find itself in turmoil after telling staff that it is struggling in a “brutal” retail climate.
It faces competition from cheaper retailers and the the massive threat of online sellers, who offer customers fast and convenient services.
Nasons, too, feels like it is trapped in the past. Its High Street store comprises numerous, but small departments in an oddly shaped building over several floors.
Nevertheless, it remains a popular Canterbury institution, once an apparently enduring fixture of the High Street.
But – as history teaches – nothing is forever. As a kid growing up in Canterbury, Nason’s sat alongside two other department store giants – Riceman’s and Debenhams.
Riceman’s perished in the Whitefriars redevelopment of the late 1990s and early 2000s and today there questions about Debenhams’ future nationally.
But as much as we talk about these businesses being at the mercy of abstract trends or impersonal forces, their fate is in reality in our hands as consumers.
Sure we are guided, led, persuaded – often very successfully by clever people – so that our commercial choices are not wholly independent of external influences.
That said, however, we are not programmed what to think – despite what some people who have a very low opinion of humanity might have you believe.
It means that every time you choose Amazon over Nasons for your kitchenware or Nero over Boho for your cup of coffee, you are depriving the independent of your money.
If we want the department store like Nason’s, the funky little coffee shop or the local boozer to survive or even thrive in these uncertain time, then we must use them. The choice as to whether we do so is wholly ours.