Shopping was a very straightforward affair when I was a kid. There was a row of shops opposite our house and that’s where we bought most things. We bought food from the grocer, the butcher and the greengrocer. Stationery for school came from the shop that sold toys and stationery. I remember there being a hairdresser there too, and I’m sure there must have been a pharmacy. And a simple restaurant that served home-cooked food, which on rare occasions we went to as a special treat and the lady there would do me a half-portion, chiding me in a motherly manner for having such a small appetite. It was that sort of neighbourhood, everybody knew everybody.
I’m not sure at what stage of my growing up supermarkets arrived on the scene, but they were further afield and they were more expensive.
Which is why when I came to England I was surprised to find that the supermarkets were cheaper than the smaller shops.
So here the supermarkets get people’s custom not just because of the convenience of being able to do all your shopping in one place (mind you, that’s not so different really from that row of shops across the road from us when I was a kid, except that there each person selling stuff was likely to know about the stuff they were selling, and there were the friendly relationships, the sense of community) but they also entice people with attractive prices, and with special 2-for-the-price-of-1 deals or 3-for-2 etc.
And every now and again, another small shop closes down.
Before you start thinking I’m holier-than-thou let me put my cards on the table: I do shop at supermarkets. I do a very large part of my shopping at supermarkets. But I would love not to have to. I’ve lived in places where there was a good high street and I’d happily go to local shops if they existed round here, but they don’t. People who have lived here longer tell me that there used to be a fruit and veg shop, and a butcher, and basically whatever you needed for everyday life. So where have they gone? I’m sure at least part of the reason these businesses didn’t survive is that people started doing their main shopping at the supermarkets.
Which is why I chose today to pay more for something I needed at the pharmacy, knowing very well that I could get it cheaper at Sainsbury’s but thinking: I want this pharmacy to survive. This is purely selfish – I want the convenience of having a pharmacy within walking distance of our house. There were two when we first moved here – the other one was closer and nicer, but it closed down a few months ago. I don’t want to see another one close down – not if I can help it. We have too many empty shops already. And far too few shops that are useful for normal day-to-day stuff. The only really basic shop we have is the newsagent+post office – apart from that, it’s hairdressers and barber shops, a takeaway and a sit-down restaurant, a beauty salon, and until recently there was a fancy dress shop and a dance-wear shop. Oh, and there’s the recently-opened convenience store with some basics but not much, the sort of place you could go if you’re stuck for a pint of milk but you wouldn’t actually take a shopping list and trust you’ll find what you need.
So I’m doing what I can to support the pharmacy – at least I can do that, hoping it’s not too late. And once in a while I go to a town nearby, where they do still have a real high street with real independent shops, and I buy fruit and vegetables at the greengrocer and feel all subversive… shhhh… don’t tell the supermarket, they might take away my “loyalty card”. ;)