When Tesco made its application to open a Tesco Metro practically next door to my local organic co-operative grocery, I complained. I pointed out that my neighbourhood was well served with small, local, independent shops, as well as two supermarkets and did not need such a store. I wrote about my concern for the livelihoods of those independent businesses and pointed those in charge of the decision to NEF’s Clone Town’s report. I wasn’t the only one that registered my objection and Tesco was initially refused permission for its shop. Not being a company to take no for an answer, Tesco lodged an appeal and was granted permission to build its metro. That was three years ago.
Its impact on my local shops seemed to be small, if at all. The organic grocery is thriving and the local deli/bakery, and grocer also appear to have retained their customers and are often busy; the bakery frequently has queues out of the door on a Saturday. However, just after Christmas, my local newsagent, which is almost opposite the Tesco did not open. Its shutters remained shut through to New Year and have not been raised again. At first I thought they’d gone on holiday, but news filtered through that they’d gone out of business.
The last time I’d gone in, I’d bought a paper, a magazine and some Christmas cards. I actually thought “I wonder how they manage to keep the business going? There can’t be much profit on sweets, fags, newspapers, lottery tickets and magazines”. Clearly there wasn’t. I’m convinced it’s Tesco’s fault, if not wholly, then at least partially.
But while Tesco is just a shop, where you can pick up a paper and a packet of fags alongside some of your other goods (and after you’ve filled up with petrol), the newsagent was so much more. It wasn’t just a shop. It was part of the community; something that Tesco never will be in the same way. The staff at the newsagent knew the names of many of their customers, and knew all about their lives and families. You could stop and have a chat to them, and I often did. They knew when I wasn’t feeling great by my purchases of trashy magazines and chocolate, and when I was published in any of the papers by the multiple copies I bought.
So what happens when a small business you care about goes bankrupt? I feel desperately sad and upset for the owners of the shop. Where are the owners now? How are they feeling? Do my local community miss them? And if so, how can we show our support?
Of course, Tesco won’t be the only reason behind the shop’s closure. There will be other factors: print media is declining while rent and other costs have risen. But Tesco surely has to shoulder some of the blame?
I’ve always thought that every time Tesco, or one of the other major supermarkets, was granted permission for a metro shop it should pledge to cover (or subsidise) the rent of the independent shops that it was going to be competing with – to level the playing field just a little. Perhaps if it had, my newsagent would have been able to overcome its other challenges.
Personally, I just don’t think there was a need for a Tesco, but if permission HAS to be granted, then why can’t the powers that be allow them to exist, but only to sell products that can’t be bought in thriving, independent shops?
The reason I moved to Chorlton was because of its local community and local shops (and because my best friend lives here too). I relish the fact that I don’t have to do any of my shopping in a supermarket if I don’t want to. And mostly I don’t. Yet we now have two Tesco metros trying to squeeze out those independent shops, and a bigger threat – an enormous superstore, which Tesco has got permission to build, just a few miles away in old Trafford.
I’m hoping that despite the current economic climate, my local community will continue to support its local shops, including the fishmonger, baker, grocers and butcher. If it doesn’t, then my local newsagent won’t be the only business to put its shutters down for the last time.
Some useful links: