The First Supermarket

I remember when the first supermarket was opened in Lincoln High Street. It must have been the early 1960s. There was a great discussion in the local paper ‘The Lincolnshire Echo’. I recall the biggest argument being that it would destroy the other shops in the high street, which in those days offered a cornucopia of family and privately owned outlets, plus the ubiquitous Woolworths, Marks & Spencer, BHS, Curries and Boots.

Well yes, it did indeed turn out as predicted. Slowly at first. Then came out-of-town supermarkets, shopping centres, retail outlets, shopping malls, the internet, online shopping. Sixty years on, the result is evident. Many UK high streets are colonised by empty properties, charity shops, betting shops and cheap outlet chains – paradoxically supported by local ‘convenience’ versions of the big grocery chains, and certainly supplemented by varying amounts of coffee shops, restaurants and hairdressers.

Of course there are honourable exceptions. Ludlow and Truro spring to mind as having many independent shops, but others outside the mainstream still thrive and show that a different path is possible. Lincoln itself has made good progress, and indeed its High Street is now a much more pleasant place for shoppers than it was in the 1960s, due to its being pedestrianised.

Local councils and Chambers of Commerce across the country face the conundrum of how to revitalise the high street. There are no instant solutions, but it does seem to me that we must look to solutions that keep more money in circulation locally and minimise the extraction of money from the local economy. As a simple example, it’s crazy that local businesses pay high rents, business tax and vat, and keep profits within the local community, which are taxed nationally, while an online business can have far lower rents and make profits that are virtually not taxed at all, and that extract money from the community that is being polluted by their many delivery vehicles. Where’s the sense in that as a system?

(Local currencies, such as the Bristol pound, are one way of attempting to address this locally.)

Featured image of Lincoln High Street 1960s from Francis Frith website – an interesting resource

Changing France

We’ve visited France regularly for over forty years, mainly on camping holidays. Over that period many changes have become noticeable. 

First there was the annual ritual of getting the insurance green card, the GB sticker, the headlamp beam converters, and painting the headlights with special yellow paint, just for France – all now gone apart from the beam benders. But now there’s the yellow jacket, the alcohol detector and adequate warning triangles. 

Then there was the dreaded ‘priority to the right’ at almost any junction, now just on non-priority roads and in towns. And the very frequent ‘chaussée déformée’ and ‘nids de poule’ signs on most country roads, where you found yourself on an extremely bumpy road surface with an alarming camber – which explained those ‘rock ‘n roll’ Citroens, but are mercifully mostly gone today.

The great thing was that each town and large village contained a bar for coffee, a tabac for Le Monde and the weather forecast, and a boulangerie where you could buy baguettes and not much else – but all but the bar closed for at least two hours over lunch. And there was probably a small restaurant. The towns would also have grocer, butcher, chemist and so on.

It was with dismay that we watched year by year the spread of the now-ubiquitous hypermarkets and smaller supermarkets, and the gradual closing of most of those earlier conveniences. Yes the new outlets are more convenient with greater choice, but the heart and bustle was gone from now-deserted towns and villages, just to return on the weekly market day that has still retained a foothold in many places.  

Nowadays, the roads into towns are lined with commercial/industrial units, just like the US. And you have to drive everywhere, just like the US – progress?

Featured image of artichokes on a market stall, Nonancourt