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Vol. 5, no.1 1978

The ownership and employment patters of small shops : a case study in east Swansea /

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The ownership and employment patterns of
small shops: a case study in east Swansea
Lecturer in Geography, University of Exeter
During the last decade the interest shown in the problems and the
prospects associated with small shopkeeping has grown at a
considerable rate. The published research material has covered a
wide variety of aspects, from the problems of stock supply faced by
small shopkeepers (Kirby, 1974) to the sociological characteristics of
such retailers (Bechhofer and Elliot, 1968). Needless to say such
contributions have come from an equally wide variety of disciplines
embodying completely different approaches. It has been the task of
the geographer, however, to examine the total situation and research
into the relationships between environmental factors and the oper-
ational problems of small shops. In carrying out such studies geo-
graphers have highlighted a number of important obstacles to the
continual survival, in any great numbers of these small retail
establishments. The situation briefly is that the small shop-
keeper is faced with the problems of a massive change in consumer
tastes, away from personalised shopping to the more 'material'
attractions of the self-service store. In addition the action of local
planning authorities in restricting retail development in new
suburban areas since 1950 has done little to ease the plight of the
small shop. Indeed, it is the action, or as Smith and Gray (1972)
have shown, perhaps the inaction, of planners that has had the most
singular effect on the decline of the small retailer.
In addition to focussing attention on the problems facing small
shops, current research has also identified a number of possible
solutions. These are based essentially on attempts to improve their
competitiveness with larger retail organisations using the main
advantage of small shops, that of consumer convenience, together
with some modicum of price cutting. To many people such solutions
appear to be of a transitory nature when given the inherent weak-
nesses in the business expertise of small shopkeepers. Such a factor
therefore appears to be of central importance in assessing the long
term durability of small shops as components of the distribution
Despite the apparent significance of business expertise few studies
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