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The combination of a rare midweek day out and Nick B’s piece on the closure of Couch got me thinking.
Couch’s demise is another sign of small businesses being squeezed out as the financial downturn and the one-size-fits-all coffee shop and pub takes hold.
Regardless of what you think about Couch – and some friends of The Lichfield Blog have said they won’t miss it – it looks worryingly like another step in Lichfield’s move towards a flat-pack city centre.
Wandering around the city on a rare day off during the week yesterday helped me see just why Lichfield should fight to protect its identity.
Even for someone who lives in the city, it was surprising how much time I managed to kill just pottering around. And it was surprising how many out-of-town accents I heard, with most of them heading towards the individual shops and businesses around the Minster Pool area.
Seeing people sat outside the small cafes in the sunshine and enjoying fudge from the traditional sweet shop made you realise what Lichfield’s appeal really is. People don’t come here to enjoy a Subway or visit a pound shop – they come here because it’s different.
Yes, the city also needs to live as a working area for those who live here, but tourism and history is such a massive part of Lichfield that a balance has to be struck. New developments in the city centre should be in-keeping with the area. Small, independent businesses should be encouraged to thrive. And visitors should be encouraged to come here. But without the first two of those, the last one will dwindle away.
The danger of trying to fill shop space at all cost is that you can’t give an area a character.
Yes, the current cutbacks and business closures are a worrying trend which is affecting Lichfield now, but the city needs to hold its nerve. If the shops are filled with any Tom, Dick or Harry’s shop at the moment then that will become the city’s identity.
And when the recession becomes a memory, Lichfield will have to live with what it has – and the fact it will never be the same city again if it has opted for the easy option.
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