Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Supermarket chains

I finished reading Dave Gorman's America Unchained last night. Gorman travels across America trying to use unbranded companies. But does he succeed? Well, that would ruin the book. I had never read travel non-fiction before but I really enjoyed this and its made we want to explore the genre more. It also got me thinking about the way chains have injected their way into the market towns of the United Kingdom.

I was only seven when I moved to the area. It was just like any other market town with a weekly market, handful of shops around a market square, a railway station and an outdoor swimming pool for the summer. Our house was only two minutes walk from the future Asda site but that moment it was a Greene King brewery. I remember a lot of the town's population worked there if not they drunk the beer. My school backed onto the brewery and for a long time I thought it was the mash potatoes from the canteen that made the school smell but after I left and was playing in my garden and around the neighbourhood, I realised it was the brewery. They were making mash potatoes smelling drinks, or that's what my nine year-old mind thought.

The brewery shut up after a few years, people lost their jobs but that was okay (that was the attitude from the wives who stood in the queues at Woolworths) because there are always the Jordan factories and people will always want cereal.

The building was knocked down and the site left as a waste ground. Kids climbed over the fences, drunk men would wee against the boundaries. Women would tut at the stain it was leaving on the town.

The newspaper started calling for ideas on what to do with this town-centre location. The youth cried for cinemas and bowling, the older people wanted something for the community but the plans at the council were for a Supermarket. Over the years many chained supermarkets were linked to the location - Safeway, Morrison's, Aldi but at the last minute Asda came to the rescue after another Supermarket pulled out.

The town already had a Sainsbury's just outside the town, an Iceland, a Somerfield (recently rebranded from Gateway) and Co-op (also rebranded from Budgens). The building and car park went up in a matter of months and was ready for Christmas. I think it was four years ago but it feels like its been longer.

At the time my Sister was working in one of the other Supermarkets and they noticed the effects straight away. They used to be busy on Sundays and then they just had dribbles of people through their doors. After my sister left, the shop closed down and now it has reopened as another Supermarket, Aldi but it only ever has three customers on the premises and people use its car park for the town.

Woolworths, the central piece to the town has now gone. Smaller independent shops closed, some have tried to open but shut after six months. Asda was also the final nail in the coffin for the indie bookshop in the town. It was the size of a boxed-room and the staff didn't know anything about books (No, sorry, there is no such book called Rebecca or National book Tokens).

Even the charity shops are now seen as been over priced because Asda is so cheap. Our town used to be full of charity shops but now its coffee shops trying to grab the supermarket shoppers inside to refuel.

The market has shrunk too. The council have tried to drum up some interest with farmer markets and French markets but their stalls take up valuable parking space in the middle of town for people to visit the 'other stores.'

I guess it doesn't help that the local job centre is surrounded by two pubs. I know people who are the same age as me, have left school with hardly any qualifications and have never had a job.
The residents living next door are fighting back. Asda wanted 24 hour delivers and have lorries unloading early in the morning and late at night. But someone pulled together a petition and the town won against the Supermarket.

But shops are still closing - Somerfield is the next one. Come to our town next week and we'll have one less supermarket.

There is more discarded rubbish around the town, abandoned trolleys.


The town I lived before has a massive Tesco sitting on the hill, overlooking the other shops. If you look here, you will find that the empty shops are the ones from other chains that have tried to open and compete and failed. The shops along the high street are independent ones, ones that have been around for decades, have a good reputation and strong customer base.


Lee Ryan said...

Excellent post! Though much of his work is about travel in America, but Bill Bryson wrote some good travel non-fiction; not that you were looking for suggestions.

Jessica said...

Hi Lee,

I have only ever read one Bill Bryson - Notes of a Small Island which was brilliant!