Letter from Prestatyn
Growing up, Rhyl was the place to spend your Saturdays.
After a drama lesson at the Little Theatre, my friends and I would wander into town and spend our hard-earned pocket money on cheap make-up and fast food, remembering to save just enough for the train or bus journey home.
We knew how to make a fiver last all day.
Rhyl housed the bigger chain stores like Marks, Next, New Look, Boots and Superdrug, as well as a slew of smaller independent shops; not one but two theatres, the gaudy delights of the seafront arcades, the Sun Centre, and importantly, as we grew older, more nightclubs and bars than you could visit in a single pub crawl.
Rhyl was Prestatyn’s cooler, more rebellious older cousin. Prestatyn had just one street of boring shops, the sort your mum and dad liked to visit: Ethel Austin, Brooklyn DIY, Kwiksave.
At some point during my youth the high street began to visibly decline, in line with the growth of internet shopping, as did most of its contemporaries.
Perhaps this decline is best exemplified by the closure of the town’s only pet shop, which lay vacant for over half a decade.
Some joker had left a lone parrot balloon on a display perch in the window, and over the years we would walk past and see the parrot’s metallic lustre fading due to prolonged exposure to sunlight; the balloon slowly deflating over the years until it was just a piece of coloured foil sellotaped to the stand, a symbol of the diminishment of independent retailers on the British high street.
For many lonely years the sagging parrot sat alone. Until the pet store caught fire and burned down.
Ironically, I believe it was the introduction of the bigger chain stores that reversed the decline of Prestatyn’s commercial district. The opening of Parc Prestatyn, cavernous buildings housing national chain stores, was also the catalyst for the revival of smaller shops.
Despite the effects of the pandemic and lockdown periods, retail continues to thrive here in Prestatyn. Driving up the high street today, you would be hard pressed to spot an empty shopfront.
The town offers a glorious mix of smaller independent retailers, supermarkets, eateries, pubs and bars. Aside from the beautiful beach, the high street is perhaps one of my favourite things about the town.
There you will find beauty parlours, boutiques, cafes and coffee shops, delicatessens, pharmacies, pet shops, florists, gift shops, newsagents, cheesemongers, tailors, a plastic-free organic grocer, butchers, insurance brokers, and solicitors. (The one service you cannot find here is a bank. However, to give the Principality Building Society credit, within weeks of the last bank closing they had installed a cash point for the convenience of shoppers, and many banking services are now offered by the local post offices.)
In a single street you can buy ethically-sourced clothing, ice cream for dogs, local honey, knitting needles, a bouquet of flowers, a Ouija board, hand-poured candles, Welsh-language birthday cards, a bed and bedding, fresh cakes, a wedding ring, crafts made by local artisans, chutneys from the local estate, and organic broccoli.
You can get your eyelashes tinted, have a sports massage, your hair shaved, cut or dyed, see a clinical psychologist, sort your taxes out, book a holiday, get a torn dress repaired, your shoes reheeled, and renew your library books in a single journey.
Sleepy coastal town
As for food and drink – where else outside of a major city can you munch a galette, cross the road to eat at a Patagonian steakhouse, then cross the road again and tuck into an Italian risotto?
Not bad, for a sleepy coastal town with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants.
I’m aware I sound as though I’m working for the Welsh Tourist Board, but I promise that Prestatyn Town Council is not paying for this promotion.
I’m writing purely because I love the independent businesses of Prestatyn, for their variety, quality and friendly service.
‘Shop local’ is a mantra we’ve heard a great deal of, and its importance was highlighted during the pandemic.
Yes, shopping and eating locally undoubtedly does cost a little more than buying from online retailers, but it is something I firmly believe in doing.
When you’re out and about in Prestatyn you can actually see your purchases at work, employing people and creating sustainable businesses that contribute to a thriving community.
Of course, the expansion of the town has come at a cost. Whereas once people flocked to Rhyl for their shopping needs, they now come to Prestatyn.
Here, the bigger businesses must take some blame – there are national brands that closed their Rhyl branches almost as soon as Parc Prestatyn was announced.
Although there are many great independent businesses in Rhyl (it is our go-to place for furniture, books and craft supplies, aquariums, and soft furnishings), they are surrounded by empty stores, a growing number of charity shops and pop-up shops catering largely to the cheaper end of the tourist industry.
Prestatyn has become a fat tick on Rhyl’s side, leeching its lifeblood. One can only hope that the much-needed investment in the town will trickle down to the retail areas.
The planners of Denbighshire County Council have a great deal of work to do to ensure that Rhyl’s high street doesn’t become an absolute ghost town, while Prestatyn becomes too crowded for comfort.
Parking and congestion in the town centre grow worse with each new development, and this is especially true during tourist season.
I’ll freely admit to avoiding shopping completely during the summer holidays, especially on weekends and Fridays (‘changeover day’ for the holiday camps).
Overcrowded pavements, long queues and jam-packed car parks are undoubtedly good for businesses, but not so much fun for the rest of us, who just want to pop into town to carry out a quick errand.
Truly, tourism is a double-edged sword… but that’s a discussion for another day. The summer holidays are over, it is raining and I’m about to go shopping.
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