Big Business

The Elephant in the Village

Instructive piece on the BBC about the demise of some Tesco stores in the UK and the effect that has on the towns and villages they were built (or going to be built) in. It’s a lesson in the wisdom of allowing large, distorting enterprises to be built. On arrival, they tend to destroy by removing smaller shops, and distort by creating big oversized buildings in their place, often changing the physical environment to suit themselves at the same time (think roads, access, bridges, walkways).

And when they leave, it’s like removing an elephant from the room, suddenly there’s all that space and nothing to fill it, all that was there destroyed by it’s arrival. It explains why you often see both protests against the arrival of a ‘superstore’ and then protests against it’s closure: the arrival likely closed small but established businesses, and the closure may now result in a significant employer leaving with no options for the newly jobless.

Even when one isn’t actually built, it can still have a devastating effect, like in Dartford, Kent:

Tesco’s scheme was first proposed in 2002. Early plans were rejected in 2006. After years of wrangling, permission to build a 100,000 sq ft supermarket and flats in Lowfield Street was granted in November 2011. The plans were scaled back. Finally, demolition work began. Soon after came the announcement that Tesco wouldn’t be opening here after all.

“Before, it was fantastic,” says James McCarthy, owner of Old and New, a second-hand shop that is one of the few remaining businesses still trading on this side of the road. “It was a thriving little community, really good little independent shops. We just sit here looking at the door now. We are sitting here doing nothing all day.”

Behind the shop, Ray Richardson, 58, feeds geese on an acre of land he still owns where the Tesco was supposed to have been built. He once ran a butcher’s shop on Lowfield Street that had been in the family for three generations since 1908. But it was pulled down after he reluctantly sold up in the belief that the supermarket scheme was a fait accompli.

“I have basically been forced into unemployment,” he says. “I would have kept going. My father died at 82, he was still working. My grandfather was over 80 when he packed up.”