While Americans hang out stars and stripes flags for Independence Day, celebrations take place on this side of the pond to mark Independents Day. Suzanne Savill discovers how small shopkeepers are rising to the chain store challenge
Back in the early 1950s, an Austrian called Victor Gruen, who had emigrated to the United States, envisaged a retail utopia. He wanted to create a shopping destination where people would gather in a central area and vehicles would be banished.
The result was what’s widely regarded as the world’s first enclosed shopping centre, Southdale, which opened in 1956 in Edina, Minneapolis, in the United States – turning the Land of the Free into the Land of the Mall. It became the blueprint for malls subsequently built in the USA, the UK, and around the world. Often located on the outskirts of towns and cities, however, and dominated by major retail chains, they served to enforce the car culture that Gruen had found so abhorrent, and he became deeply disillusioned.
More than half a century on, yellow flags and posters prominently displayed on shopping streets in Bristol during July will be providing a colourful illustration of how Gruen’s dream might be realised in a different way.
The traditional American celebration of Independence Day on the Fourth of July has become Independents Day in Bristol – a date on which to actively support independent businesses. This year’s events (which include flags of independence being hoisted at five locations in the city and a prize draw for people who have shopped or eaten in any of the city’s independent outlets) comes amid renewed focus on the role of traders, after the south Bristol suburb of Bedminster became one of 12 places around the UK to win £100,000 of government regeneration money, plus support from retail guru Mary Portas.
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