You can’t step more than a few feet down a British street without passing the familiar big chains that dominate our city centers- Starbucks, Subway, Costa and McDonalds are permanent fixtures on every corner. Looking around parts of Liverpool, I realise that beyond the recognisable landmarks, I could be in any city in the UK. My city, our cities, are at risk of losing their identity to these high street giants, creating a ‘Clone Town Britain.’
I confess that when I need that caffeine fix, or a greasy hangover cure high street chains are unfortunately often the places I head too. Too many times I have shamefully instagramed a cliche picture of my Starbucks cup or found myself standing underneath the beaming yellow arches wondering what the deli-wrap of the day is. It could just be down to familiarity, with chain shops you know what you are getting- for better or (most likely) for worse. It seems that I just fall back on the major chains, but if I took a bit of time to look around I would find that there is so much more on offer, the amount of independent places my city has to offer is astounding.
As a national we are becoming increasingly disenchanted with high street chains, partly down to many being boycotted and publicly shamed over issues such as tax avoidance, but partly down to the fact that we are just plain bored with the lack of diversity that chain stores offer. Whilst big chains coming over from places like America seems enticing at first (I remember when a GAP opened in my local retail park and my oh my that was exciting) we are quick to realise that they have very little new to offer. It comparable to being drawn in by someone because they have a different accent (theres no shame in it we all do it, a Spanish accent after all sounds a lot more appealing than someone of Maghull), yet it might only be a few minutes of mundane conversation when you realise an ‘exotic’ background doesn’t mask a bland personality.
We need to stop these corporate Goliaths taking over and support our country’s diverse, unique local businesses. Independent Liverpool is a movement encouraging people to do just that. Started by best friends, David Williams and Oliver Press, the company is dedicated to unearthing Liverpool’s hidden gems and reviving the independent. This years Independent Liverpool turns three, so I talk to David about how far they have come and what the whole process was like…
How did you form the idea for Independent Liverpool, how did you go about turning your idea into an actually physicality?
I’d love to tell you that my epiphany was realised after trekking up miles of mountains, overlooking thousands of miles of civilisation but the dark truth is that we were playing on the XBOX. Something we did most days, but today was different. Born out of an amalgamation of many dreams, frustrations and passions, Independent Liverpool started purely as a blog. A way for us to navigate through the labyrinth of Liverpool’s effervescent independent scene (and eat lots of food along the way). We did it, in the hope that it may encourage people to walk the extra mile, to take the next left and to see that there is more than just one Liverpool. At the time our lives had led us down paths we weren’t best pleased with and we wanted a change. Despite having no direction, we devoted every day to it. Building a following, contacting independents and, of course, writing. It was only months later we even considered a card and whilst the journey has been incredibly hard, that was still the best thought that has popped into my head to this date.
When I moved away from Liverpool I realised how much of a different feel it has from other cities, its quite unique to find such a big city that has such a local feel. Do you think that this is why the business works so well here? Do you think it would work as well in other cities? I am aware you have expanded to Sheffield and Birmingham have they greeted the concept in a similar way?
We’re often protesting Liverpool is different to the rest, but in the words of John Lennon: “we’re not the only ones”. Liverpudlians are just different characters. They love to see their city do well and they love to have a good time. These conditions are perfect for an independent scene to flourish and it has. We see it as a walkable London. It has been very interesting to see the development of other cities and how each city has a different feel. We had the easiest job as we’re telling proud people to keep being proud and giving them many examples of why to do so. In Birmingham, the guy had a much more difficult job. He had to challenge archaic stereotypes of the city and people who have professed there’s nothing in Birmingham. A harder journey, sure but a lot more poignant. Sheffield is very similar to Liverpool. Full of proud people with a fantastic sense of humour.
One of the main notions of Independent Liverpool is The Card. At the moment there are so many loyalty cards in my purse gathering dust going completely ignored, so why is it that you think your card has been so successful?
I think the main reason was how we branded it. Take Apple for example, they sell their products secondary. They sell the ability to have the world at your fingertips before your phone, they sell you the ability to make songs, catch up with friends, write books, read books before they sell you a phone. They sell you an action, a lifestyle and the ability to chase dreams, before they sell you a phone. We adopted that approach, we sell the emotion the card gives you before the card itself. We sell discovery before discount and we sell support before saving. We never branded it as a discount card, because it has negative connotations, we branded it as a membership card, so people would feel special using it and being a part of it.
A very typical question to end on, but what do you think Liverpool will be like in the next few years. Obviously areas such as Liverpool One are over flowing with chain shops but elsewhere in the city independents seem to have almost taken over do you think that these establishments are sustainable?
I truly hope so. You only have to look at London and Bristol to see the dangers of gentrification but we hope all new ventures starting are sustainable and we’ll do our best to help make sure they are. I don’t Liverpool’s independent renaissance is over, I think it has just started and over the next few years there’ll be an explosion of interesting independents opening. The Baltic Triangle has had an incredible transformation over the next decade and we, as a city, just need to make sure the best interests of the area are kept. Whether it be quirky gin gardens or just a new restaurant, Liverpool’s future looks pretty awesome.
You can pick up an Independent Liverpool card for £15, which gives you membership for the whole year and discounts of hundreds of locations across the city -Save money, support locals and unearth Liverpool’s hidden gems.