AS the popularity of online shopping has rapidly grown, the consumer’s desire to experience the hustle and bustle of retail in the flesh has diminished.

The overwhelming drop in footfall has impacted shopping sectors across the country, and unfortunately, Clacton’s High Street is no exception.

Vacant units are gradually starting to creep in more and more and once thriving shops are being pulled out of the war on retail by their owners.

Stalwarts such as Marks and Spencer and Mothercare have left and, if the closing down posters are any indication, Bonmarché is also on the brink of departure.

But, for all of its shortfalls, Clacton’s town centre was not always the undesirable attraction many consider it to be today as these photos show.

Back in the 1980s, hundreds of shoppers would flock to the booming High Street, sometimes overflowing into the roads as they battled for pavement space.

Pier Avenue, which is often now used as a strip for zooming joyriders, was sometimes prioritised for the free flow of shoppers during special events, with concrete blocks preventing vehicle access.

There was even a succession of green potted plants and wooden benches in the middle of the road on which tired shoppers could take respite from their spending.

Over in Station Road, a large, looming Tesco supermarket dominated the area and the Wimpy restaurant was a popular place for a bite to eat.

Some historic shops, like Magic Music, which has since moved to Rosemary Road, have remarkably stood the test of time and remain a staple of today’s somewhat depleted seaside retail offering.

A Wenn and Son, for example, is a family butchers which opened 53 years ago and was, at one point, one of 12 butchers operating within the area.

Danny Storey, who runs A Wenn and Son, believes his business’ continued success is down to only selling premium products.

The veteran butcher also suggests the future of the town centre continues to look bleak and, unless something drastic happens, things are only going to get worse.

He said: “We have always maintained a high standard of quality and that is why we have survived for so long. You can’t beat the flavour of a good quality piece of meat.

“Our customers have been coming here for many years and it is quite an achievement to still be here and carrying on as strongly as we are.

“The town itself has taken a bit of a fall and there are only two butchers now.

“Many more shops are needed in the town because it is losing out on too much.

“I would rather have people next door paying half the rates we are, if it meant the town would draw more people in, because it will turn into a ghost town if nothing is done.”

Historian Norman Jacobs, of the Clacton and District Local History Society, says it is surprising to see how the High Street has changed in what is, in reality, a short space of time.

He also believes the lack of variety shoppers are now faced with is one of the key reasons why the town centre isn’t as busy, nor as appealing, as it was during its heyday.

He said: “Before the days of the computer and the out-of-town shopping parks, town centres used to look something like this - they were busy.

“This is Pier Avenue, circa 1987, when people actually did their shopping in the town centre and we had a wide variety of shops catering for all tastes and needs.

“I think the photos of Pier Avenue with lots of shoppers in were taken around Christmas time and it may be the street was blocked off for a special shopping event.

“Blocking off was not a normal occurrence and the number of people is indicative of it being a special event.

“Since these photographs, taken just over 35 years ago, Clacton has seen the loss of many of its well-loved town centre shops.

Homegrown retailers, such as Spalls and Arthur Westwood, have now gone as well as branches of national chains including Woolworth’s, Marks and Spencer and Mothercare.

“Sadly, a return to these days seems very unlikely.”