Travel, it is claimed, broadens the mind. This may be true, but a trip to the US tends to make you think how narrow the retail focus is in all but the biggest cities.

Travel, it is claimed, broadens the mind. This may be true, but a trip to the US tends to make you think how narrow the retail focus is in all but the biggest cities.

Take Jamestown New York. This is a small “city” with a population of just over 30,000 and it is just as you might imagine it. There is a large amount of seen-better-days housing stock, a few furniture manufacturing plants and a population for whom the glamour of Manhattan (about eight hour away) is a dream only.

It also has shops, or retail boxes more accurately, all located on the edge of town, with very little in the way of retail activity in the centre. And all the usual suspects are present. There’s a Dollar Tree (value, value, value), a Kmart, a Walmart Supercenter, a Sam’s Club and, fortunately, there’s even a branch of mildly aspirational food retailer Wegmans.

The point is that with the exception of Wegmans, these all more or less conform to a type of big-box retailing where design would go out of the window, if there were any, and where lowest price is king. The worst is, without a shadow of doubt, Kmart and it’s not hard to see why this one struggles. This is a huge acreage under a corrugated metal roof that has been painted white and which is lit by featureless fluorescent tubes. You can see way into the distance because the equipment is all at the same level and also because there are no shoppers to obstruct the view.

Utilitarian is one thing, desolation another and if you want the latter, then this is the place to visit. The only real question mark must be how it continues to function. If low price really is the answer however, then it has to be Walmart. This is almost as soulless as Kmart, but does at least have a tincture of thought as regards layout and display and it also happens to have the lowest price offer on the strip. The result: a busy store.

The redemption in all of this is Wegmans. Here, touches such as a picnic bench with checked tablecloth and all the materials needed for a hotdog, enticing displays and a varied lighting scheme add up to a popular store, although price is not the issue.

Everything between the Wegmans and Walmart extremes is more or less moribund. It does leave you wondering whether Jamestown might once have had a flourishing retail panorama downtown, but it’s all too late. It does also serve as a dire warning about the way that things could yet progress in the UK.