Tony filmed himself walking around a variety of town centres and then uploaded the results to YouTube.
He said he wanted to make the films amusing as well as looking at the issues entrepreneurs and store owners face and some of the ways town centres are responding to changing shopping habits and the new difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “It’s all doom and gloom at the moment and lockdown has been bad for everybody. I’ve been trying to do something different but, on a serious side, trying to look at what’s going on, how many empty shops there are and what is being done to fill them.
“When they said you could explore wherever I thought I would go to places and see what is happening.”
Tony had already taken an interest in the fortunes of Wigan town centre by joining a committee for retail.
He started his YouTube channel for gaming videos and then branched out into producing humorous content to lift spirits during lockdown.
From there he came up with the idea of touring town centres while providing a commentary which was tongue in cheek but also put some serious points across.
He says his travels have given him some insights into what will aid the retail sector in the year 2020 and some ideas he would like to see developed further in Wigan.
He said: “I went to Rochdale and there has been a lot of redevelopment. Money has been spent and you can tell.
“I first moved to Wigan because I was an area manager for a computer games shop with stores in Manchester, Liverpool and Preston, and Wigan was right in the middle.
“I walked through The Galleries when I first came about 20 years ago and was blown away by the way it looked, the businesses trading there, all the big names. Houses were cheap at the time too. I think we can still tap into that.
“I was interested in The Rock shopping centre when I visited Bury. There are apartments above all the shops. They’ve got retail and a community living there too.
“We could do the same. People are working from home and you could get city living without paying city rates. Then you would get nightlife too; cafes and pop-up pubs. We’ve got a few of them in Wigan but they would benefit from more people living in the town centre.
“The market in Bury was also amazing. People go on coaches to buy Bury black pudding from the market. It’s about using your heritage. Wigan could do something similar with mining and pies, maybe around a food court.
“We also need to get the town centre looking spick and span. There’s a lot to do. Some of the places I visited were just terrible, with entire parades of shops boarded up. That just looked desolate and sad.”
Tony suggested it was vital that independent shops are able to thrive and called on political leaders to reform business rates, which he said are currently “killing retail”.
He also suggested Wigan’s town centre is currently too spread out, with people not walking around all the main shopping streets.
Another issue bricks-and-mortar stores face is the huge growth of online retailers such as Amazon.
He said: “We need to rethink a town centre. I let people come into the store and chat, it’s laid-back. It’s not just all about selling stuff, it’s also about interaction.
“Retail will never be the same as it was, it’s got to adapt.”
— to www.wigantoday.net