Page last updated at 11:13 GMT, Friday, 28 November 2008
The High Street

Shoppers montage

The shutters look set to close on Woolies and MFI for ever, while Currys and PC World have seen profit turn to loss in the economic downturn. But what about the small, independent retailers many of us rely on day-to-day?

With its mix of traditional family-run shops and services, Shirley High Street, in Southampton, is the bustling focus of an inner-city neighbourhood - a shopping street like many others up and down the UK.

For several weeks, we have been tracing the fortunes and hardships of businesses on the street as the country plunges into recession. Some have weathered the downturn well. Others are starting to feel the pinch.

But what about the shoppers themselves, whose cash flow and personal optimism or pessimism about the coming months will have a direct effect on local traders?

It's a sunny, crisp morning and there's a complementary sunniness in the sentiments of many pacing the pavement of Shirley High Street. It may be only a bus ride from Southampton city centre, and five weeks before Christmas, but there's no indication that people are deserting Shirley for the twinkling festive lights of the city.

Plenty of shoppers are clutching bags, braving the cold for just a few steps before ducking into another shop. For many of them, shopping on this street is a weekly ritual.

Sarah Wright
It's a pity there are no Christmas lights, says Ms Wright

Mother Sarah Wright, 19, says she makes the half-hour trip from Millbrook to Shirley about two or three times a week, to get anything from baby's products to food to haircuts, shoes and clothing.

"I'm 19 now and I've been coming here all my life. It's much better than Millbrook. The card shops are really good and then there's Poundland and Shirley Market. And for baby products there's Superdrug, Boots, Savers and Wilkinsons."

Ms Wright, who has 15-month-old son David next to her in a buggy, says she doesn't feel like the economic gloom has affected her and hasn't changed her spending habits in any way. But it's a shame there are no Christmas lights.

But Ms Wright is different from most customers here on one count at least - age.

Pensioner Ann Norman, 68, from Bitterne, says she has yet to feel the pinch: "I haven't changed anything I do yet, but maybe I will later on.

"I shop in Shirley once a week or once a fortnight and I've been coming here for about 10 years. I usually go to Wilkinson or Poundland and I get simple stuff like a bowl or a light bulb. I think it's good here. Nothing's changed much - except there's more traffic."

She goes elsewhere for her supermarket shopping (Sainsburys in Bitterne or Tesco in Millbrook) and to Comet in Millbrook for more expensive electrical items.

There's no need to ask Brian Dandridge, 47, from Totton, what he's bought. He's got a football under his arm.

Brian Dandridge
I've been coming here for 20 years and it's not really changed
Brian Dandridge

"I come to Shirley High Street once a month, usually for specialist items. I've just bought a five-a-side football. There's also a music shop that I go to.

"There's a wide variety of shops but parking can be a problem. It's easier to park in multi-storey car parks in bigger places.

"I've been coming here for 20 years and it's not really changed. The shops are pretty good and have remained the same.

"There's a certain feel here, some shops have their goods out the front and the shopkeepers have more time for people. The local community will always support this street."

VAT boost

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is hoping his 2.5% cut in VAT will help stimulate shoppers and John Peters, a retired engineer, 57, says it could work.

"VAT will make a difference to absolutely everyone. I'm semi-retired now so tax cuts won't affect me but with VAT everyone is getting things cheaper. Rather than getting minced beef Sunday, we'll get roast beef."

Peter Gregory
My wife buys a few clothes and we get books from the second-hand shops
Peter Gregory, 75

He uses Shirley High Street about once a week, mainly for the DIY stores, especially Wilkinson, which he says is useful for tools, electrical items, paint and even toys.

"On the whole, Shirley is pretty good for everything. There's a library in the precinct and a day surgery and a police station.

"But it's a bit thin on the ground for fruit and veg and butchers. They've been priced out of it. There used to be five butchers shops along here. I get my meat in the supermarkets but the old-style butchers are not around as much.

"My wife goes to Southampton for more expensive things but there's plenty of stuff here. Everything you need is in Shirley and it's always busy, as busy as it used to be."

Julia Tarrant, 39, a carer who lives in Weston, comes at least twice a week. She has a fondness for the street because her mother used to live there and it's where she was brought up.

Julia Tarrant
Shopping trips to Shirley evoke childhood memories for Julia Tarrant

"We buy everything and anything, from the main shop to bits and pieces. I live close to Portswood but I prefer Shirley because it has more to offer. I usually go to Sainsbury's and do my Christmas shopping here. I come at least twice a week.

"It's as good as it ever was, I think. I think everything is here - clothes, cards, food, charity and hairdressers. I prefer Shirley to town. Town is hyped up too much. I like the independent traders. It's a bit more expensive but you get what you pay for at the end of the day and the service is better."

But not everyone is happy. Housewife Amy Wilson, 25, from Millbrook, says the High Street is "rubbish".

"There's nothing that makes you think you should go into to Shirley for. I only come here for essentials. If I want anything more, or anything expensive, I go into Southampton.

"There's only one electrical shop, and there should be more clothes shops. There's not enough for a family."

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