Tesco doom - 15 months later have spirits lifted?

PUBLISHED: 10:00 04 June 2011

Some of the independent shops on Whitecross Road

Some of the independent shops on Whitecross Road

Archant

A PETITION against it gained 800 signatures, it prompted a leading LibDem MP to visit Weston, and it was described as a ‘slap in the face’ to local traders.

Back in 2008, when plans were first announced to open a new Tesco Express store in Weston’s Whitecross Road, campaigning residents closed ranks to try to stop the move.

But despite the concerns of hundreds of those shop owners, residents, councillors and MP Lembit Opik, the supermarket giant’s move went ahead, and the store opened its doors on February 24 last year.

So just what effect has the shop had, 15 months down the line?

Before the new Tesco opened last February, some shop owners and residents on the road had said it would take away trade from businesses already operating in the area.

Residents foresaw doom and gloom for chain and independent stores alike, with some predicting a wave of shop closures would follow, along with the death of the area’s rare, village-like atmosphere.

But the truth, it appears, has been rather different.

Since the store opened, not a single one of the road’s 18 independent shops, or three national chain stores, has been forced to close.

Indeed, most shop owners and businessmen remain largely ambivalent on its effect - if they think it has had any at all.

Most are in agreement that the current, austere financial climate is proving a bigger threat to business than the new arrival.

Paul Colliers, owner of Burroughs Butchers, says that despite an element of competition with Tesco, the slowdown in trade he has been experiencing is down to people having less to spend nowadays.

He said: “I don’t really think that they’ve had a terrific effect on the area, but it’s just quieter in general.

“I was hoping that Tesco was going to bring more people into the area, but I don’t think it’s had the effect that it might have had.

“Where all the people have gone I don’t know, it’s just quiet for everybody at the moment, nobody has the money to spend.”

Another long-standing business owner, Iris Hogg of Whitecross Bakery, believes that if the businesses stick to what they know best, then Tesco won’t affect them seriously.

She told the Mercury: “We did complain at the time, but in all honesty it hasn’t made much of a difference to us. Tesco has the quantity, and we have the quality.

“It hasn’t had that effect because we’re very village-like here, we know people by their names, they’re not a number when they come in. I think it’s very important.

“I don’t think Tesco will close down any shops though, not for a second. I think the recession has made it difficult, there’s no money around which is sad, but if we can keep on offering what we do, I think the shops will be alright.”

Sabine Maxwell, owner of Nicola Bridal agrees the effect of the Express shop has been negligible, but also says many shop owners have, intentionally or otherwise, boycotted it.

She said: “I personally think it brings more people to the area, I think we’ve benefited a lot from it. I don’t actually go in it, myself and a lot of others have always shopped at the Co-op [directly opposite the Tesco Express], and I think we will continue to do that.”

Not everyone is so enamoured with the Tesco store though. One worker at the Co-operative Society store directly believes there has been a negative effect - albeit for a rather surprising reason.

She said: “Since it opened, there seems to have been a lot more shoplifting in the area, we get a lot more abuse.

“Some of our staff have been threatened and even hit by people. I don’t know why it is, but we’ve all noticed it.”

But when asked what effect the Express store had had on the area, a spokesman for Tesco focused on the positives, saying: “In our experience Tesco Express stores contribute to the vitality of an area.

“If businesses provide customers with what they want, they can take advantage of the additional trade a Tesco store brings.”

Although that benefit might be hard for some of the businesses to locate at the moment, it’s clear that the problems affecting this, and every other area, are part of a problem of a very different kind.

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