This is a far cry from my usual fare on this blog. Not today, the weighty matters of politics and prejudice, but the slightly more ‘at home’ subject of a menace to our society that is closer to home. A creeping, methodical blight that is changing the way we live. The dreaded chain ‘convenience’ store.
In the 70’s and 80’s the convenience store was a place where you bought your milk, sugar or cigarettes and booze when you’d forgotten them at the supermarket, which would be closed. You’d pay a little over the odds for everything, but that was the price of convenience. Most stores seemed to be run by Asian families, but always by people who took the time to get to know their customers, were always friendly and always seemed to have no problem working all hours to provide for their community. Even when I was at boarding school we had a small ‘corner shop’ we used to go to when allowed out to town. Situated on Monson Road, Redhill, and run by a Mr Patel (if memory serves), it provided us with all the sweets, drinks and occasionally cigarettes we could want, at, what was then, really low prices. (If I remember, when it came out, a Wispa bar cost about 14p (and we thought that was a lot), the cheapest I’ve seen lately is 72p). I’ve just looked on Google Maps, and it is still there (click on the above link to see)! When at home, I used to run around to the local newsagent in the mornings to get my father’s paper, and have a crafty cigarette into the bargain. The owner of the store would always let be buy cigarettes in singles, for 2 pence each, (but I’m sure he told my parents because they always seemed to know).
These days have now sadly passed. Most convenience stores are now faceless, impersonal, and damned expensive. Most are national chains, determined to put their stores in any place they can shoehorn them into, regardless of the damage they do to smaller, well established, retailers who have been in place for years, sometimes centuries, all the time trying to promote themselves as the saviours of the community.
And what, you may ask, has inspired this entry, (or rant, if you want)? It was an article in the Portsmouth News. Apparently, one of the oldest pubs on Hayling Island (the Rose In June), is to become a Co-op store. Nothing much wrong with that, you might think, but consider what’s around it. Within 100 yards of the proposed Co-op there is a Sainsbury’s Local, a large newsagent/general store, a butchers, a greengrocer, a fishmongers, a pharmacy and , about a quarter of a mile north is a Tesco’s (one of two on the island), and, next-door to that, is a Co-op superstore. Even when all the other shops are closed, the Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s are both open until 10pm every night, seven days a week. So, why on Earth, do the Co-op want to put another convenience store in the middle of this lot? Have the Islanders south of Selsmore Avenue lost the ability or will to cross the road? I don’t think so. Have Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s decided to close down their well established and lucrative stores? Nope. Are the Co-op getting a bit greedy? Yep.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing the Co-op, (I worked in a Co-op for a while and they’re not a bad employer, a bit loony sometimes, but not too bad). I just can’t understand why they’ve started putting stores in places where there are already places serving the local community. Where I used to live, there was a small local store which closed down, leaving local people with a trip to Tesco’s, which usually necessitated the use of a vehicle. Then Alldays took over an abandoned local building and eventually became the Co-op. There were no other stores around and it became a bit of a life-saver, especially for the elderly members of the community. After this, several Co-op store opened around the area, all serving places that had no other shops of similar ilk, but now, there seems to be a trend of putting a shop where others are already serving the community with the same things.
It’s not just the Co-op either. Sainsbury’s seem to be doing the same thing. Near where I live a pub has been demolished to make way for a Sainsbury’s Local, next door to a Co-op Food store, with a fuel station, (with a shop), in between. Further up the road from there, a Co-op has opened in a closed down pub, opposite a butchers, a newsagent, a local fruit and veg store and a takeaway. Another pub has closed down in my town and there is talk, (rumour), of turning that into a Sainsbury’s Local, almost sandwiched between Morrison’s and Tesco superstores, (at the time of writing, the Morrison’s has been open less than a year and, to be fair, most Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local stores are usually well away from the corresponding superstore, most of the time).
With so many stores going into so many areas, selling so much of the same wares and charging such similar prices, it seems to me that customer choice is eventually going to boil down to “which one looks nicer?” or “who has the least amount of kids hanging around the front?“, rather than “which is cheaper?” and “which one has got what I want?“. On the plus side, at the rate these stores are opening, it will do away with ATOS assessments, since we’ll never have to walk more than fifty yards to go to the shops.
Where will it all end? Napoleon once described the British as “a nation of shopkeepers” which was meant as a reference to the Imperial powerbase being obtained through commerce rather than land or population but, it’s literal meaning is slowly starting to apply.