When I was but a wee lad the single word "downtown" was unheard of in England although it might even then have made its way into the American lexicon. What we - or, rather, my mother and grandmother - would say was that we - or they - were going "down town". That is two discrete words, although it should really be three - "down to town". In those days we also used the phrase "up to Town" (note the upper case T) which meant going to London; specifically, the City. But to get back to going down town. I am talking here about the time when every town had its high street - and it usually was called High Street - which was the main shopping street in town. There were scattered around towns little parades of shops where one could buy all the day-to-day necessities; there would be a baker, a butcher, greengrocer, grocer, newsagent/confectioner/tobacconist and possibly a chemist or hairdresser. But for bigger things - clothes, furniture and so on - one would go to the High Street.
I have long bemoaned the growth of out-of-town shopping centres which have led remorselessly to the loss of town centre, ie High Street, shops. But this week there have been two occasions when their importance to a certain section of the community has been brought home to me. My wife has difficulty in walking and is the holder of a disabled person's parking badge which does allow her to park pretty much anywhere provided there are no loading restrictions in force. And provided also that there is a space where she can park. On Monday both she and I needed to go to the bank. We use a bank in a shopping parade which is really too big to be called such but too small to be called a shopping centre. For those who know Brighton it is Fiveways. Now at Fiveways there are no special parking places for disabled persons and the nearest space to any of the shops might be several hundred yards away. Fortunately, on that occasion I was able, with much backing and filling, to squeeze into a space fairly near the bank. Then yesterday she wanted to go to the butcher. There are loading restrictions all along the London Road on the side the shop is situated but I was lucky enough to be able to park on a double yellow line just around the corner. But there was no way she could go to a second shop she wanted to visit as that was too far to walk and I could not park within several hundred yards.
That can be the same in the town's main shopping street, Western Road. (Brighton does have a High Street but it's not really a shopping street and is actually just a side street.) This is not accessible by cars - just buses and taxis - so disabled persons have to use the few special parking bays in side streets. But they can be quite a distance from the main shops. That might well be why my wife has not shopped in town for the last couple of years and has, instead, stuck to out-of-town shops where she can park comparatively easily - and close to the shop she wants.
So there is something to be said for those places after all.