back to top

How The UK High Street Has Changed Since The Nineties

Our town centres have changed since we were kids. Are they any better? Who knows...

Posted on

How UK High Streets Have Changed Since The Nineties

The UK high street is the millennial generation’s window into modern Britain; a place where we go to witness the local community spirit meeting head on with shameless capitalism. For our grandparent’s generation, the equivalent of the high street might’ve been the local church. Where they might’ve prayed to God for the end of rationing or whatever, we pray that our overdraft will support a new pair of Adidas Climalcool’s in Ferrari Red.

But just as Martin Luther nailed his proclamation to the door of All Saint’s Church in 1517, our high streets have undergone a reformation of their very own. We once walked, clinging to our parents sleeves, wide eyed and wet nosed, gazing at the hustle and bustle we would’ve only seen on the VHS copy Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Now the average British city centre seems like an altogether more mundane place, but that may be down to the things that have changed over the last few decades. Here’s some of the biggest differences you might’ve noticed since childhood.

The Buskers Have Changed


Every UK town had one between the mid-nineties and the mid noughties; a native American pan pipe band playing over a cheesy backing track, in full-regalia, selling CD’s of their world music. It’s hard to work out what kicked off this trend, but one can’t help but point the finger at the 1990’s Kevin Costner epic, Dances With Wolves.

Today, the sound of pan pipes and Native American drums has left the UK high street, as drainpipe trousered, acoustic guitar toting Ed Sheeran wannabe children have taken their place. Want to hear a slow, X-Factor paced acoustic version of Mr Brightside whined out of key? Take a walk down your home town’s main shopping street on a Saturday…

Fast Food Revolution


Where to eat, on a busy Saturday afternoon in the city centre? Some big brand names have remained from the nineties into the noughties and beyond; MacDonald’s, Burger King et al. But what about some of the long forgotten fast-food chains?

Wimpy Burger was a popular sight in many UK city centres, offering the very best in cheap fast food burgers and milkshakes. Unfortunately, the aforementioned MacDonald's and Burger King chains saw off the Popeye-based underdog, and only a few Wimpys remain. Elsewhere, you’ll find Pret a Manger, and Starbucks in their place.

Phones break out their boxes


While the late nineties and early noughties saw many of us getting our first Nokia 3310 (the world’s most durable phone), town centres were still the home of good old fashioned phone boxes. These were particularly handy when you didn’t have enough coin for a One2One top up card, but did have a bit of silver change left.

Later came the short lived broadband boxes that let you browse online with a rudimentary computer, whilst feeding your precious pocket money into it. Nowadays, you needn’t shut yourself in a box to make a phone call. Connecting your Beats to your iPhone via Bluetooth means you can walk down the street happily muttering to yourself to your heart’s content.

Microscooters out, heelies in


Who can forget the microscooter craze that swept the nation just at the turn of the century? You couldn't set foot on any British street without having to dodge these fold-able chrome streaks that went just so damn fast. They proved so popular that some stuffy councillors tried to have them banned from high streets.

Today using even one of your legs to propel yourself along is so last year, as hover boards become increasingly popular with kids. They’ve made for some great YouTube fail videos, plus you can keep both hands free for texting while you go. Result!

People pestering you have changed


A typical high street in the UK is not one you can walk down without getting some kind of interaction from a stranger. Wind the clocks back a decade and beyond, and you might’ve been wondering who these people were handing out stress tests for free. Their pamphlets looked worth a read, and they were so friendly.

Now we know that Scientologists best be avoided, along with the Gauranga monks trying to peddle leaflets. These days, charity workers stalk our streets eager to sign you up for the cause they’re supporting. They can be very persuasive, so be prepared to feel rotten if you refuse to sign up to their good causes.

The death of Woolworths


Call me old fashioned, but a trip into town as a young lad meant at some point hitting up the pic n mix in the now deceased Woolworths. Always kept at the door to avoid any brass-necked pocketing of fizzy cola bottles, the Woolworths pic n mix was a shrine to youthful opulence. More white chocolate mice than you could shake a stick at, it was the place to get your sugar fix on a Saturday afternoon.

Now long gone, Woolworths stores have been since replaced with typical American coffee chains like Starbucks. The kids have gotten in on the act too, shunning fizzy UFOs and jellybeans for pumpkin spiced lattes and kale crisps. They’re a lost generation, I tell you!

The daemon street cleaners


You haven’t experienced terror as a child until you’ve seen one of those ride-on street cleaners the council use to lift litter on pedestrianised town areas. Looking like Noo Noo from the Teletubbies steroid abusing older brother, as imagined by H R Giger, these were the main feature of many a kids nightmares.

Looking at them today, they almost look like fun to work with. You get to cruise up and down busy streets, hoovering up litter and scaring small children. Great bonus!

Where have the emos gone?


One of our generations most recognisable sub culture was the emo; the sultry younger sibling of the goth. These pop-punk loving, black clad sprites could normally be found in large groups in very particular city centre areas. Outside branches of the aforementioned Wimpy’s was always a good place to start, or anywhere you could pop an ollie on a skateboard.

Now, many of these usual haunts lie empty, apart from a few hard-core Less Than Jake devotees. The emos grew up, got haircuts and jobs, and now our city centres are a little darker (or brighter) for it.

What’s changed in your high street since growing up? Let us know in the comments!

This post was created by a member of BuzzFeed Community, where anyone can post awesome lists and creations. Learn more or post your buzz!

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!