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Dropping the Shopping June 17, 2009

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

I’ve been doing a lot of shopping lately. Not ‘shopping’ as in searching for a darling little outfit to wear at one of the numerous swanky soirees I habitually attend, but dashing into a wide variety of convenience stores, butchers, charity shops – especially charity shops – around the Welsh Marches, badgering them to take posters and flyers for the upcoming Sheep Music Festival (see previous blog, Fool For a Festival).  And the experience has inclined me to clamber aboard yet another hobby horse.

A few friends have long if gently ridiculed me for patronising only the emporia of our hometown for all my food and drink shopping, a policy that whilst  hopefully well-intentioned, is increasingly hard to sustain. A few years ago Presteigne had two butchers, two greengrocers and three mini-supermarkets, a chemist, a baker, two ironmongers, and two newsagents. Both ironmongers, a butcher and a greengrocer are gone, one of the newsagents and the smallest of the mini-marts are for sale, their places taken by what with brutal flippancy, I will call knick-knackeries. Oh, and a sandwich shop, a third hairdressers, a second charity shop and an outlet for a very good organic baker in Way-on-High that keeps not-very-working-mum-friendly opening hours.

In the meantime a healthfood shop briefly came and went (its high prices victimised by the credit crunch) and several premises remain empty. To those who briefly visit the town or indeed live in bigger burghs, our ‘retail environment’  – as current parlance must have it  – still harks back to gentler times before high streets became interchangeable parades of national brands, sucking money out of the local economy and into city portfolios. But my efforts to keep it local are being sorely tested these days, and as I flit around the Marches with my posters the signs of locally-owned retail fragility are becoming commonplace.

On reason is of course that when it comes the weekly shop, the recession or at least the cold, pervasive fear it engenders have forced folk to shop downmarket, even if it means a 45 mile return journey to the nearest Lidl. This has denuded the biggest mini-mart of the choice it once offered (a changed of management hasn’t helped here), the shelving for which has now been stocked with fruit, veg and periodicals which in turn has hurt the newsagents and remaining greengrocer. The latter has rather cannily turned to pet-foods for its salvation, the result being a gradual creep away from human comestibles and a consequent reduction in their range and quality… to say nothing of the acrid, off-putting odour of Bonio. Plus of course those that can still afford better quality are also traveling further afield where there’s a better class of butchery, greengrocery and indeed, fish.

Prone to similar phenomenon, bigger towns such as Leominster, Llandrindod Wells, Knighton and even Ludlow – the Hampstead of the Marches – have already or are in danger of becoming havens for Tesco, Somerfield and Aldi, overwhelming a dwindling smidgen of specialist and charity shops. There are many who’d argue that none of this is important, that the advance of mega-retailers who offer cheaper everything from sun-loungers to CD-players as well as food’n’drink, are what matters to cash-strapped customers. And if you listen to the regular radio bulletins celebrating or bemoaning the latest results from Tesco or M&S as crucial economic barometers you might think that this is all that matters.

But whereas I occasionally if shamefully slope into Aldi on my way home from London in search of cheaper olive oil (or more likely, vodka), I think the homogeneity and ubiquity of a few big retailers is to be deeply regretted, even feared. Regretted, because it does take money and entrepreneurial opportunity out of the local economy, and if you happen to live in a smaller town or village your food mileage and thus the cost to the planet inexorably rises. There is also the social cost: every time I wander up the street for a pint of milk, I meet someone who I can pass the time of day with, a small daub of social glue that nevertheless enhances the local culture. That doesn’t happen if you’re shopping 15 or 25 miles away in a giant shed.

More ominously – and this is where I admittedly risk falling foul of conspiracy theorising – as wafer-thin margins, bankruptcies, mergers and takeovers result in fewer and fewer but bigger and bigger retail consortia, there is an Orwellian danger that we’ll be forced to buy everything from faceless, soulless corporations whose economic might will be greater than the governments whose planning and tax laws they can shape if not skirt. And choice and price will then inevitably fall and rise accordingly.

But try telling that to the pensioner shuffling painfully round our local Costcutter who can avoid crossing the street to buy her veg or Daily Mail and you’d get a blank or contemptuous response. And I doubt she’ll be taking much notice of my Sheep Music posters, either. Same goes for some of the shopkeepers.

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1. Paul N. Blezard - June 18, 2009

Mark, remind us of the date of the Sheep Festival?

Funny, reading your blog, I was reminded very much of the shop situation in sunny Barnes-by-the-Thames in beautiful downtown SW13. Lots of boarded up shops in the High St there at the moment, and a brand new Sainsbury’s just opened in White Hart Lane.
Similarly Upmarket Godalming is the same in the heart of the Surrey stockbroker belt.
Paul the pedant in Ham (Don’t mention the typos!)

2. Wm. Terry Krueger - June 18, 2009

Nicely written, Mark! I enjoyed reading it. What you speak of landslid the US in the late ‘60’s and mid-70’s. Choice? Well, pay through the nose at a boutique here in the States. There are cooperative bands of industries (hardware for instance), but even worse than goods, farming is down the tubes and into the Big Grinder. Think of it: New Jersey’s motto is the “Garden State”. It was the bread basket for NYC for many decades. It has some of the most fertile soil in the US and fed most of the Eastern seaboard. You can’t even find the soil anymore. Once the foot heads down this path there is no return. There is a Wal-Mart within 15 miles of 97% of the US population…
Oh My…

3. martincraig - June 18, 2009

These are more fun and a lot more interesting than any of the ‘Opinion’ items in the national broadsheets. We have the same shopping siuation here in the wilds of Scotland, it’s a 22 mile round trip to our nearest Costcutter and a shrinking handful of similar shops to yours.

At 24 miles in another direction, we have the only surviving and utterly essential fuel stop, plus a Coop. But the big deal location is an 80 mile round trip, where there’s a music shop which has just diversified into… pet food! A really tasty vintage Hofner was hanging next to a clutch of dog leads. The stupid thing is, we did buy some grub for the collies and a packet of Fender Bullets, mindless consumers that we are.

4. Jeff Stone - June 19, 2009

I guess most people ‘of a certain age’ feel the same. We supported our local family-run hardware store to the bitter end, a place where you could actually by one nut and bolt and a couple of washers if that’s all you needed – not the pre-packed bagful sold by B&Q! When we are out and about we’ll buy local wherever we can, (even filling up with more expensive countryside fuel in a vain attempt to help the rural garage), but in a society where cost is more important than community and where everyone seems to want everything ‘now’ and the cheaper the better, what hope is there? It’s a me, me world I’m afraid, the only good thing is that at least we are free to complain!

5. Baz "The Groper" O'Connor - June 22, 2009

Really blown away with the writing on your blog dude! I came across it looking for my dads porno sites.
Such mastery and command. The flawless, seamless flowing artistry of a craftsman at his peak. Not the usual interminable depressive moanings of an old bollox.
I’m an 18yr old death metal guitarist living with my parents. I write all my own songs in my bedroom and love to Rock Out wearing my sisters pantyhose and underwear. Rock On Dude!

6. terry - July 12, 2009

Baz, i’m a high heel wearing drummer. Maybe we can Rock On together?! Do you have your own hair or a wig? i have Tyler’s original wig!

Baz "The Groper" O'Connor - July 13, 2009

That’s totally awesome Dude!
Playing drums wearing heels and fishnets.
Hit me up and we can jam and hang together.

Be careful with the wig Terry.
It belongs to Tylers mum and she’s a awesome, hot 34yr old psycho skank and totally puts out for his band mates.
Like she’d be in the mall with Tylers sister Shannon and they’d be like, ” Hi Mrs. Ziegler wanna go to Cinnabon…?

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