Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Favourite Shops No.1 - Parkin's Menswear, North Road, Durham City.

It goes without saying that multiple chain stores hold very little interest for the discerning shopper. The increasing sameness of every British high street is a depressing trend.

As you wander past ugly plastic fascias, shuffle through noisy, over-lit interiors and encounter robotic staff who've been brainwashed by cynical "Customer Care" training courses your senses are over-loaded and your heart sinks. Of course shop assistants have no say in the matter, but why must the simplest purchase be the target of a "Meal Deal" offer, a money-raking repair warranty or a "3 for the price of 2" multibuy? Because shopping has become a science in the eyes of marketing experts and both consumers and workers are sadly just numbers.

Finding long-established shops which defy fashion and miraculously survive is rare. It's a delight to come across an establishment like Parkin's Menswear here in Durham. Aside from the prices and concessions to colourful "casual shirts" most of the drab stock could come from the 1950's! Here you can buy caps, cardigans, ties, trilbys, braces and long-johns. They are piled high in the windows in a refreshingly un-stylish manner. The dingy interior is an Aladdin's Cave of nostalgia, stuffed with racks of tweed jackets, grey or beige slacks and waterproof macs. Wood and glass counters contain interlock underwear, socks and initialled handkerchiefs. Behind the counter is shelving for a huge range of old-fashioned hats and caps and there is a curtained fitting room for un-hurried trying on of trousers, suits or zipper anoraks. The two middle aged female staff in navy blue cardigans are un-pushy and polite and receipts are always hand-written.

Apparently most of Parkin's revenue comes by being sole stockists of local school uniforms. I suppose this explains how such an unusual anachronism stays in business. Apart from the odd pair of socks I don't buy much there myself but love to browse the racks while OAP customers praise the smartness of the antiquated togs. I would hate the place to close down.

These two photos were taken on a Saturday afternoon before Christmas and the drawing was part of a mock Parkin's advert/tribute which I included in Bagnall's Dailies #1.


Mister E said...

How I agree with your characterisation of the hideous modern shopping experience in the UK! I recently had to purchase my new glasses from a trendy opticians in London...they have their own receptionist, and you feel like you're entering a space-age hotel lobby from the future. Tasteful lounge jazz plays over the PA, strip-lighting reflects off mirrors, glass and chrome everywhere. Not enough to be examined by an optician; another smartly-dressed assistant appears, to act in the role of 'personal stylist', and help you choose your designer frames! When I add that this place also has a nail bar on the 2nd floor, you can guess how antagonised I was by this ghastly 'boutique' experience. And then I got the bill...how has it been decided that these flimsy, barely-existing designer frames (now increasingly the only available option for wearers of spectacles) are allowed such unchallenged domination of the market, and at the price of a new television set? Need I tell you how much I long for the old days of cheap and simple NHS frames at my friendly chemist, and my local old-fashioned optician who managed to conduct his science without the aid of digital eye-scanners!

John Bagnall said...

Many thanks for sharing your nightmare shopping experience at that Clockwork Orange London optical outlet!

Well timed, because on Monday I'm going for my first ever adult eye-test. I tried to choose a modest looking out-of-town optomerist but when I booked my appointment the wannabee footballer's wife receptionist had to ask twice for my name as she was too busy giggling with her identikit tanned companion. No doubt more giggles will ensue if I decide to buy any frames less expensive than Prada or Dolce & Gabanna.

You hit the nail on the head in saying these all-powerful/all-controlling retailers have "unchallenged domination of the market". It's no good to shrug our shoulders and admit this is the way things are these days because we all have to shop.

If only charity shops could provide spectacles - I would quite happily wear re-cycled glasses if it meant fighting these behaviour controllers who masquerade as champions of free-will and choice!