Frequently in the past I have been heard to bemoan the loss of individuality in the shopping areas of Britain’s towns and cities. That trend started, for me at any rate, in the days when the big, household name retailers, colonised high street after high street across the country, using their buying power and their marketing budgets to ensure that the small, local, family businesses who had been providing both goods and real service, were killed off and driven out. Some time later, as we all know, the big names themselves migrated to much larger premises in custom-built retail parks away from town centres, taking customers away from the old shopping areas and further damaging so many of the older, small businesses that had managed to cling on to a precarious living despite the giants.
Cardiff has undergone many big changes during the past decade or two so that even long-term residents, who have not visited the city centre for a few years, might be forgiven for getting lost in the new developments. The most recent of these is the St David’s 2 shopping centre. If you like modern, commercial architecture you will love this. It is a massive extension of the old St Davids Shopping Centre, which makes it possible to walk from one end of the city centre to the other without going outdoors and it is a great place for “people watching”. If retail therapy is the new religion, this must be one of its most spectacular cathedrals. I hope it is successful for all involved as a lot of people are employed there. Certainly it draws the crowds and it should do well. However, I will reserve judgement for a couple of years while I wait to see how many of those bright new shops are actually selling (in a sufficient quantity to remain in business) what those crowds want to buy.
I am not a big fan of modern architecture, whether domestic or commercial, but Cardiff has a most effective antidote in its wonderful Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades. I can do no better than to refer you to http://cardiffarcades.wordpress.com/ where Amy Davies, a local freelance journalist and photographer, is posting her fine photographs of the arcades. What an environment in which to shop, full of visual treats and a great reminder of the sheer style of times long gone.