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Convenience Croydon: Does the borough have too many chain supermarket stores?

AS supermarket giants unveil plans for four more high street stores in the borough, Rachel Millard asks whether the situation has got out of control... CROYDON may be one of the most varied boroughs in the country but its residents have at least one thing in common – they are never far away from a Tesco Express or Sainsbury's Local.

Seventeen of the stores have been set up in high streets up and down the borough, anchored by supermarkets and superstores at each end. More are on their way in Saffron Square, West Croydon, Thornton Heath and Purley.

Unsurprisingly, their rise is often met with opposition from independent traders and their supportive neighbours. They say there is no way they can compete with the purchasing might and brand pull of the supermarkets.

Amir Shahid, who runs Shop Right supermarket at 71-73 Thornton Road, said: "I can't explain to you what traders are feeling. The supermarkets have the big guns out and for the people with the smaller shops it is becoming impossible to survive."

At Pond Late Shop in nearby London Road, the manager spoke of working in a "dying industry".

"The only thing we can do is try to lower our margins, but it gets to a point where you cannot lower them anymore or there is no point in doing it," he said.

"I do not know what the future holds, but I would say we will see the end of these kind of independent stores within the next ten to fifteen years."

Speaking on Tuesday evening, he was selling produce over the counter in shopping bags from nearby Tesco. "Hey, we are trying to save money where we can," he explained.

Blaming the supermarkets, the supermarkets argue, is unfair. After all, they are only giving the people what they want and fulfilling most businesses's mission of growth. Even if their size makes it an unequal contest.

Tesco spokesman Matthew Magee points out the company employs roughly 1,000 full and part-time staff in supermarkets across Croydon – and a further 1,000 in its dotcom warehouse.

He added Tesco staff were paid 5 to 12 per cent more than at the other big supermarket names. He would not reveal how much, saying it was "unfair to the staff".

In response to a question about the company's ability to undercut others with its massive buying power, he said Tesco does not set prices in comparison with local stores. So if a neighbouring trader can beat Tesco's price, Tesco won't retaliate.

He added: "Express stores can increase the footfall in the local area so we bring customers into the area.

"We give them a reason to shop in their local area instead of getting in a car and going elsewhere. Once they are there they will use the butchers and the bakers."

He is not the only one to see the potential benefits of the chain convenience stores.

Annabel Fogden, general manager of the Croydon Chamber of Commerce, says the stores can be a catalyst for change rather than a force of destruction.

She said: "It is very important that local businesses stay strong because they have the connection with the community.

"A good range of shops also means the high street is a more attractive place for people to come.

"But supermarkets and convenience stores can be a catalyst to make independent shops think differently about what they supply.

"People find the express stores very convenient, so they are bringing people into the area. If shops can complement that, that can be a good thing."

Be that as it may it is, scant comfort to those caught in the eye of the change, such as Sunny Patel in Brighton Road, Purley.

His Good News newsagent and basic grocery store is one of the few remaining retailers in a town where the arrival of Tesco superstore 20 years ago has banished the butcher and baker.

He is now operating on dwindling margins to compete with the superstore, while a Sainsbury's Local is set to open down the road soon.

He said: "We get four two-litre milk bottles in a pack for 95 per bottle. I am selling them each for a pound.

"So I am making 20p on a whole case, just to draw people in," he added.

"I will just have to try and pull my finger out and sort something out."

Local authorities across the country have tackled the rise of big brands on the high street to varying degrees. Some areas have banned chain stores altogether, while Edinburgh Council asked the Scottish government for powers to ensure that supermarkets have to apply for planning permission. Current planning rules mean supermarkets do not need planning permission to move into a building formerly used for a similar purpose. Jason Perry, the council's cabinet member for planning and regeneration, was too busy preparing for and speaking at the Develop Croydon conference this week to talk to discuss the matter with the Croydon Advertiser. However, a spokesperson for Croydon Council e-mailed a comment. He said: "We understand the views of residents who fear that local independent shopkeepers could be affected by the opening of supermarkets. "Supporting local business is something that we've been particularly focusing on and our emerging economic development strategy explores ways in which we can support and encourage small and medium businesses, which can include independent retailers. "Planning regulations mean that where, for example, there is an application for a change of use from a pub to a shop, this is within permitted development and it doesn't need planning permission." A spokeswoman for Sainsbury's, which is set to open new Local stores in Purley, London Road and Parchmore Road, Thornton Heath, says the company is responding to demand and can be good for other traders. She said: "We open new shops where we have identified a need. These are often in high street locations where our Local shops fit in well and complement other independent traders and businesses as well as helping to boost quieter parades through an increase in footfall. "People want the convenience of being able to top up their weekly shopping by walking to a shop close by. "These shops provide customers with an excellent fresh offer and convenience and grocery ranges." She added that the store aims to recruit locally. "This supports the community and also helps to provide a friendly service from colleagues who are proud of the shop they work in," she said. Finally, she noted, all the shops play an extra role in the local area through the Sainsbury's Charity of the Year programme and Active Kids scheme. TESCO Express Stores
  • Croydon George Street Express, 30/34 George Street;
  • Croydon Leon House Express, Leon House, Croydon;
  • Croydon Southend Express, South End Road;
  • Croydon Whitehorse Road Express: 111 Whitehorse Road;
  • South Norwood Express, 156-162 Portland Road;
  • Thornton Heath London Road Express, 1076 London Road;
  • Croydon London Road Express: 369-373 London Road;
  • Shirley Express, 10/14 Bywood Avenue, Shirley; and
  • Coulsdon Express, 2-4 Chipstead Valley Road, Coulsdon
Tesco Express stores with petrol stations
  • New Park Esso Express, 847-853 London Road, New Park, Thornton Heath;
  • Croydon Esso Express, 23-41 Shirley Road, Croydon;
  • Croydon Addiscombe Esso Express, 100-102 Lower Addiscombe Road, Croydon;
  • Shirley West Wickham Esso Express, Wickham Road, Shirley
Tesco superstores
  • Purley Road, Purley;
  • 32 Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath
SAINSBURY'S Supermarkets
  • Central Croydon, 19 Whitgift Centre;
  • Purley Way, Trafalgar Way;
  • Crystal Palace, 120-122 Whitehorse Lane;
  • Selsdon, 130 Addington Road, South Croydon;
  • Upper Norwood, 66 Westow Street
  • George Street Local, 1-3 Suffolk House, George Street;
  • Croydon High Street Local, 59 High Street;
  • Addiscombe Local, 261 Lower Addiscombe Road;
  • South Norwood Portland Road Local, 122 Portland Road
COMING SOON... Sainsbury's Local
  • Site of Blockbusters, 6-8 Purley Parade, High Street, Purley;
  • Site of Ship of Fools Pub, 9-11 London Road, Croydon;
  • Garage site at 187 Parchmore Road, Thornton Heath
Tesco Express
  • Saffron Square, Wellesley Road, East Croydon

Convenience Croydon: Does the borough have too many chain supermarket stores?

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