Updated in view of Matt's thoughtful comments on the corporate takeover of the world :
Matt, I too find it distressing to walk through towns and cities widely scattered across the UK and **they all look the same** . Same brands, same retail chains almost everywhere you look. Sigh.
It is widespread; there is even McD's in Athens, though they do make some concession to the country at least, as they sell some Fasting specials in Great Lent :-)
The Big City -as the small ones call it-(Cardiff) is the capital of Wales, and is the most cosmopolitan place in S Wales, certainly.
It has all the branded chains you would expect (at least 5 Starbucks just off the main shopping area, for instance), but it has the advantage of a rambling system of arcades or tiny malls, almost all independently owned and often quirky little shops.
It is a delight to walk through them, passing shops selling alternative remedies, antique shops, tiny cafes selling organic delights and antiquarian bookshops all in the same small place. We did enjoy walking and window-shopping, though the main purpose of my visit was to visit a large bookstore.
We have a good independantly owned bookstore in our small town, but it is very small and I do like to have a good browse of a variety of books before choosing :-0. I have frequently visited major book chains to find a book I like, then come back and ask our own bookshop to order it for me , which is the best of both worlds as long as one doesn't mind having to wait.
Our whole family firmly believe in supporting the small retailers. Use them or lose them is our motto !
BTW, the link for Hawkins Bazaar
Browser beware !
Some categories are less than salubrious, but it is mostly good fun.
We had a day out on Saturday.
The weather was vile, the kids were bored, and I felt the need for retail therapy, particularly as I had birthday book tokens burning a hole in my purse :-)
DH and I bundled the kids in the car, drove to Blogtown, where we caught the train to The Big City. Total cost of train journey for four of us, using our Family Railcard ? £6.00.
Cost of *one* adult travelling by bus from our home to The Big City, the last time I went ? £6.15.
We had a brief refuelling stop at McD's, then off to the shops. It was my first visit to the new Borders store, and I have to say, I want to set up home there. It was wonderful ! I was very restrained and only bought one book, though the girls had one each in the sale. We managed to get a super calendar of photos of Lighthouses for our kitchen for the princely sum of £2.
Then off to the SPCK bookshop, where I was able to get a copy of Fr Joseph's "One flew over the onion domes", which I am really enjoying.
Final stop was to Hawkins Bazaar, where the children were desperate to spend their pocket money on magic tricks and whooppee cushions. So we staggered home, duly laden with goodies, and we had fun.
It was a relatively inexpensive day out and the small fry were very patient of their mother's bibliophilia :-)