Here in my medium sized northern town, there are shops on the high street that define the times.
They are this, and then that, and then empty for a bit, then they become the other. I can’t remember what they were prior to the UK economy flinging itself in front of a double decker bus back in 2008, but since then we’ve seen a pattern.
First, they became fishy feet shops.
They had names like ‘giggly feet’ and ‘tickling tiddlers’. They were soulless rooms containing tanks full of tiny fish into which you payed good money to insert your bare, world weary feet. As far as I remember the fish nibbled away at your badly pumiced skin to serve god knows what purpose.
I never bothered to find out the theory. I just assumed it wasn’t for me and moved on.
Then, in a matter of weeks, urban legend began to spread that these cutesy little tiddlers could give you HIV/Aids. That’s the kind of rumour that could throw a spanner in the works of even the most skilfully crafted business plan. Overnight, they all closed.
All five of them, if I remember rightly.
Five fishy feet shops serving a non-descript purpose in a medium sized northern town. Even without the rumours, those numbers didn’t add up. This town can barely service five pubs these days – once you have your feet nibbled once, would you really be back week upon week, as a repeat customer in a saturated fishy feet sector?
So they closed.
A few stayed empty, and a couple became pawn shops with names like ‘Cash Generator’ and ‘Cash-4-U’. In times of government imposed austerity pawn shops make a lot more sense than fishy feet shops. But then David Cameron won the 2015 election and hard times got even harder.
When the pawn shops start closing down it’s a sure sign that the economy has progressed from struggling to make ends meet, to wandering around drunk harassing pigeons.
And now, without fail, every one of these empty retail units and lots of others besides have become ‘vape’ shops. Formerly known as e-cigarette shops. They feature hastily scrambled together interior design, row upon row of camp flavoured ‘vape oils’, and bored shop assistants surrounded by a dense cloud of vape making some quick cash before the regulators move in.
Anyone, it seems, can stock up on this stuff at the cash-and-carry and open a shop. At the last count I found eight such shops in this medium northern town. Call me cautious, but if I were to start ingesting this stuff I’d want an expert behind the counter to give me an impartial lowdown.
I’m pretty sure that the people staffing these places are the same people who staffed the fishy feet shops, and Cash-4-U. Can one person really be an expert on fish that transmit HIV/Aids, the second hand poverty industry, and vape?
It makes me wonder – if the vape phenomenon dies off what will these shops, these mirrors to the ills of society, become next?
Regional branches of The Samaritans?
Apocalypse supply stores?
(Image: By micadew from US (Vape Mania!) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)