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Impact of superstores on local retailers

Keith Parkins | 18.04.2005 16:37 | Analysis | Culture | Repression | Birmingham | London

Superstores have devastated town centres across the country. Occasionally it is possible to find a small oasis in the retail desert. Upton Park in East London with Green Street and Queens Market is one such oasis, but it is now under threat with the local mayor in collusion with property developers St Modwens bulldozing through its destruction.

fruit and vegetable shop Green Street Upton Park
fruit and vegetable shop Green Street Upton Park

Queens Market Upton Park
Queens Market Upton Park

fruit and vegetables Queens Market
fruit and vegetables Queens Market

fruit and vegetables Queens Market
fruit and vegetables Queens Market

trashed by St Modwens Farnborough town centre on a busy Friday afternoon
trashed by St Modwens Farnborough town centre on a busy Friday afternoon

'History shows that when a supermarket opens, local shopkeepers can moan and complain all they like, but it's just a matter of time before all but the most exceptional amongst them lose just enough business to the newcomer to make their own enterprises unviable.' -- Joanna Blythman

'Statistics on small shops read like casualties of a curiously uneven war.' -- Joanna Blythman

'A superstore is a neutron bomb. It wipes out commercial life for streets around, while its parking spaces jam the traffic.' -- Simon Jenkins

'As part of the ongoing project to turn the whole country into identikit retail parks, malls and yuppie apartments, and make sure that never again is Britain referred to as “a nation of shopkeepers”, the latest local area still retaining some character under threat is the century-old Queens Market, Upton Park - one of the few surviving East End markets in London. The local mayor in collusion with property developers St Modwens wishes to see it destroyed and replaced by an Asda superstore and a block of luxury flats.' -- SchNEWS

''Where does the money come from to pay Tesco Boss, Terry Leahy? From producers and consumers; the cheaper he can buy from producers and the more he can get from consumers the more money he has for his shareholders and of course for himself.' -- John Turner, Lincolnshire Farmer

It's a myth that when a new superstore opens it takes all the trade from the existing retailers. It doesn't, nor does it have to. The superstore only has to take a small amount of trade from existing retailers, just sufficient to make those businesses unprofitable. Then one by one, the local retailers go under.

This can be a long drawn out process, the retailers slowly dying, or death can be very swift, with the retailers knocked out of business within a week of a superstore opening its doors. But however it happens, it is not a pleasant business.

Nigel Dowdney writes of losing 50% of his trade within a week of a Tesco opening in Swainsthorpe, a once thriving market town in the Norfolk Broads. What was a bustling market town was killed stone dead, now boarded-up shops, nobody on the streets.

A superstore opens, one by one the retailers close their doors for the very last time. The process reaches a critical point, then rapidly accelerates. As the local retailers one by one close, the local shoppers, much as they may not wish to, have no choice other than to shop in the superstore. The local economy then rapidly collapses. Money that was circulating within the local economy, is then drained out of the local economy by the superstore.

Leominster saw a 30% decline in town centre trade on the arrival of a superstore. When Tesco opened a superstore on the edge of Cirencester (Wiltshire), the market share of town centre food stores dropped by 38%, for convenience stores the impact was far greater. In Fakenham (Norfolk) the opening of an out-of-town supermarket caused a 64% drop in market share for town centre convenience stores. At Warminster (Hampshire), the impact was even more dramatic, a 75% drop.

Bourne, a small market town in Lincolnshire, lost its two greengrocers when a Sainsbury's arrived.

When Tesco arrived in Hove, the impact on local retailers was almost instantaneous, sales tumbled. The local greengrocer thought the Tesco would help, as he thought it would bring people in. It did, but into Tesco, not into his shop, where sales were down by 25-30%. Same was true of the local Post Office, where sales fell by 25%, and that was only in the first week.

Aldershot was destroyed when a Tesco superstore opened just outside the town centre. The local council had already done a pretty good job of destroying the town when they gutted the heart of the town for a shopping mall. In the process, Aldershot lost most of its independent traders. When Tesco wished to extend its store, the local councillors shed crocodile tears, wailed, wrung there hands, what will it do to our town they bleated. The same councillors who had granted Tesco its original planning consent. These same councillors are now poised to grant planning consent for a further shopping mall on the edge of the town centre. Too many small shops say the planning officials, not enough bars, thus prejudging any application.

Meanwhile, in the daytime, Aldershot is a ghost town, at nighttime, a war zone as the bars and clubs empty onto the streets.

When local councillors sit idly by and allow a town centre to be destroyed by a developer, even worse, collude with the developer, then something has to be wrong, very seriously wrong, and yet that is what has happened with Farnborough town centre.

Farnborough town centre has been well and truly trashed by KPI, a St Modwens front company funded by Kuwaiti money. Farnborough is now little more than a handful of retailers struggling to survive and boarded-up shops.

The northern half of the town centre is earmarked to be demolished for a superstore. St Modwens say it is Sainsbury's, local councillors who repeat whatever crap St Modwens/KPI feed them say it is Sainsbury's, Sainsbury's deny it is Sainsbury's. A small estate of 28 maisonettes, social housing, is earmarked for demolition for the car park for the superstore.

The local council call this sustainable development, revitalising a town centre. Local Tories, in their Out of Touch election leaflet, even claim the credit for 'revitalising' the town centre! Before KPI/St Modwens trashed the town, it was not in need of revitalising.

The local community, who see their council as rotten to the core, their local councillors as nothing more than a bunch of corrupt bastards, were never asked what they wanted for their town centre.

Pimlico, on the site of the old bus depot at the back of Victoria Station, saw a massive fight between the local community and Sainsbury's who wished to build a superstore on the vacated site. At stake was 165 local shops. Pimlico was what good planners dream of, a self-contained urban village, and yet Sainsbury's were poised to destroy it. The narrow local streets would be unable to handle the traffic, which would be drawn into Pimlico from outside of the area. There was not even a need for a superstore, as there was a huge Sainsbury's at Nine Elms less than two miles away, with a smaller Sainsbury's only ten minutes walk away. Eventually Sainsbury's got their greedy way.

Within days of the Pimlico store opening, local retailers were feeling the pinch. Three months after the Pimlico Sainsbury's opened, one local retailer saw trade drop by 18%. He only survives through supply to local restaurants.

Ironically, to break up the soulless nature of the Pimlico store, there are 18 specialist counters, butcher, bakery, fishmonger. They may look like the real thing, but take a closer look at the 'fresh' produce, and what are dressed to look like the local baker, butcher and fishmonger are as authentic as their counterparts in Madame Tausauds.

Upton Park in East London, is very similar to Pimlico, lots of local independent stores, an excellent under-cover street market, a self-contained urban village. Asda didn't have to move in, the mayor invited them in!

Queens Market at Upton Park in the London East End is the next earmarked for trashing by St Modwens. The mayor feels there are too many fresh fruit stalls, he'd love to see the century-old Queens Market replaced by an Asda superstore.

Like Pimlico once was, Upton Park is unusual, a main street lined with independent retailers, no High Street names, no GAP the sweetshop shop, no Starbucks serving shit coffee, no McVommitt, no Next. Instead, at least half a dozen fruit and vegetable shops, loads of restaurants, you name it, there will be a shop selling it. Then there is Queens Market, a century-old market selling everything from fruit and vegetables to salt-cod to haberdashery.

And yet the local mayor wants to destroy Queens Market. He wants to sell the site St Modwens so they can build an Asda superstore!

The mayor calls the community second class citizens, they in turn call him a corrupt bastard. A gagging order has been placed on his councillors to stop them discussing the sale, they have all been instructed to vote for the disposal of Queens Market to St Modwens. The mayor has a knighthood. What for, graft?

Welcome to the neo-Labour Fascist state of Newham. Democracy? Who said anything about democracy?

Luckily for democracy, the peasants in Newham, the second class citizens as the mayor calls them, are revolting.

Once a nation of shopkeepers, as I think Napoleon called us, we are now a nation of identikit shopping malls, a nation where half of us now shop in 1,000 superstores.

All of which comes at a price, a very high price.

Supermarkets claim they offer choice. They don't. How do have we choice, when it is a trip to the local superstore and nothing else.

Between 1995 and 2000, we lost roughly a fifth of our local shops and services, banks, post offices, butchers and bakers etc. The trend continues, in the five years up to 2002, 50 specialist retailers have closed every week. In 1960, independent retailers had 60% of the food retail market. By 2000, that share was down to 6%. The impact of a superstore is felt up to 15 miles away. Half the nation now shops in only 1,000 superstores.

Compare the fruit and vegetables in a superstore with that in the fruit and vegetable stores along Green Street at Upton Park or the market stalls at Queens Market at Upton Park. There is no comparison. Not only is there a wider choice on offer at Upton Park, what is on offer is seasonal, fresher, of better quality and cheaper.

If you think superstores are cheap, ask those who help keep the prices down, or rather the profits up.

The UK farmers who are are forced below the price of production, who are forced to cut corners, who have no certainty of contracts or guaranteed prices. The ultimate price: one farmer a week commits suicide.

The workers in South Africa, picking pears for Tesco, who are paid wages so low that they cannot afford school uniforms for their kids. Pesticides are sprayed whilst women work in the orchards without protective clothing and workers pick the pears while trees are still wet from pesticides.

The workers in the banana plantations in Central America, who are sprayed whilst they are out in the fields with the crops. Workers who 'wash' the bananas with hazardous chemicals are easily recognisable by their rotted fingernails.

What's cheap about a meal consisting of saturated fat, sugar, water, modified cornflower starch and a cocktail of carcinogenic chemicals to hide the taste, make it look nice and to stop it immediately going rancid?

A local Coop had a bargain bag of mixed washed vegetable, reduced from £1-99 to £1, a small bag at that. What the bag didn't tell me was that the vegetables were washed in a chlorine solution 100 times more potent than the local municipal swimming pool, in all probability washed by illegal immigrants with a host of diseases, hence the need for the chlorine wash.

At Queens Market I was able to buy three excellent cauliflowers for a pound.

How have we got to this state, when over half of us shop in a 1,000 superstores, when ugly monolithic superstores, like an urban cancer, have laid waste to our town centres? Did we vote for it? Were we ever asked?

We do have a choice, or at least some of us still have a choice, we don't have to shop in superstores. For many people, they no longer have the choice, there are no independent shops left.

Where we have a choice, we should exercise that choice, as local people do in Green Street and Queens Market in Upton Park. Green Street is unusual in that there are no empty shops for lease or rent. If you wanted a retail unit in Green Street you'd have difficulty finding one.

We have to do more though than choose where we spend our money. We have to fight tooth and nail to stop superstores gaining a foothold in our local communities. We have to expose and kick out of office the corrupt town hall officials and councillors who are in the pocket of developers. To put in their place community activists who are going to work on behalf of the local community.

But don't look to government for help, to Tony Blair and his cronies. You’ll find Tesco boss, Sir Terry, sitting on four government task forces and sponsoring stands at party conferences. Government Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury, throwing the odd million quid into neo-Labour party coffers, that is when he is not condoning animal torture in the name of science and promoting GM crops.



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Joanna Blythman, Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets, Fourth Estate, 2004

Molly Conisbee et al, Clone Town Britain: The loss of local identity on the nations high streets, New Economics Foundation, September 2004

Nigel Dowdney, superstore kills town centre, letters, The Mail on Sunday, 3 October 2004

The Ecologist, September 2004 {special issue on damaging impact of supermarkets}

The Economic Impact of Locally Owned Businesses vs. Chains: a case study in midcoast Maine, Institute for Local Self Reliance, September 2003

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Ghost Town: A Lethal Prescription, New Economics Foundation, August 2003

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Lucy Nichol, How can planning help the local food economy? A guide for planners, School of Planning, Oxford Brookes University, 2001

David Nicholson-Lord, Green Cities and why we need them, New Economics Foundation, 2003

Keith Parkins, Localisation: A Move Away From Globalisation, November 2000

Keith Parkins, Trashing of Farnborough Town Centre, November 2002

Keith Parkins, A sense of the masses - a manifesto for the new revolution, October 2003

Keith Parkins, Redevelopment of Farnborough town centre, July 2004

Keith Parkins, Redevelopment of Farnborough town centre, October 2004

Keith Parkins, Future of Food, Indymedia UK, 21 January 2005

Keith Parkins, St Modwens the destroyer, Indymedia UK, 30 March 2005

Keith Parkins, Queens Market, Indymedia UK, 11 April 2005

Keith Parkins, STOP, Indymedia UK, 12 April 2005

Keith Parkins, Asda v Queens Market, Indymedia UK, 13 April 2005

Andrew Simms et al, Ghost Town Britain, New Economics Foundation, 2002

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Tescopoly, SchNEWS, 16 April 2005

Upton No Good, SchNEWS, 16 April 2005

Keith Parkins


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  1. No Diversity or choice any more. It's TESCO CITY — Richard Burton
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