Retail and Rioting

Tim Danaher – Like a lot of people, it’s hard to put into words the anger I felt watching the pictures of rioting in my home city over the past couple of days.

But while, quite rightly, a lot of the attention has been on the unfortunate people who lost their homes in Tottenham, and the bravery of the police officers and firefighters who had to tackle the rioters, the impact on retailers has almost been talked about as a side effect. Yet retailers and the staff who depend on these stores for their livelihoods have been the forgotten victims of the anarchy.

Whatever all these self appointed “community leaders” say on the television, and despite some people having a problem with police shooting a known criminal who was carrying a gun, what this has been about for most participants has been opportunist theft and criminal damage on a massive scale. It’s shown that there are an awful lot of people who have infiltrated our great city who have been brought up with no moral compass and have been quite happy to join in the “fun” – the pictures on Sky of savages brazenly loading up with booty at Tottenham Hale spoke volumes.

Decent retailers have been getting out of inner London’s high streets for years, and I’m sure if they have any sense more will follow. I say this with no pleasure at all – I’ve lived in inner south London all my life and my local Currys and Halfords stores in Brixton were looted last night. They’re perfectly pleasant stores but I can’t imagine they take much money. Yet from what I’ve been hearing huge volumes of stock have been taken.

Put it another way. If you’re Dixons or Kesa or Halfords, where would you rather invest your money? Tottenham Hale Retail Park, where you’re going to suffer massive shrinkage and your store might come under attack, or invest in a website, or a store in a nice market town, or maybe in another country?

I remember well how retailers left south London after all the trouble in the 80s and many will again now. Rye Lane in Peckham, my local high street when I was growing up, was hit badly with retailers like M&S, BHS and the local department store closing. It now resembles a third-world bazaar. Sadly in the search for policially-correct answers, the investigations will quietly forget about the harm caused to retailers, the insurers will pay up and the shops will drift away. The great independent stores like Pearsons in Enfield and Morleys in Brixton, who I feel particularly sorry for, will no doubt try their best to fight on, but who’s going to travel to Enfield to shop now?

What will be left behind in places like Tottenham and Wood Green will be the unfortunate ethnic independent stores who aren’t able to move. The decent people who live locally deserve better, but they won’t get it.

What retailers need is a strong response from the government – which has been utterly spineless on this – and the police. We need lots of high profile prosecutions not just of the rioters, but the looters and thieves too, and if there is more trouble, retailers are entitled to demand and expect a far quicker and more vigorous response than they’ve had so far. I’m not confident they’ll get it though. A very depressing weekend.