Convenience Stores and the Covid-19 Pandemic

This afternoon I am very pleased to be presenting at the Annual Conference of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation in Glasgow.   The novelty of doing this F2F is slightly offset by the wisdom of doing so, not because of what I might say and the reaction I might get, but because….. well you know.

The invitation was to discuss in 10 minutes or less convenience stores and the Covid 19 pandemic.  Where to start?  The slideshow below is the presentation I eventually came up with and the text following is an accompanying summary to the slides.

In March 2020, the world changed in Scotland and for retailing.  It is hard now to realise how rapidly it unfolded, but also of course how persistent it has been.  There is an interesting extended timeline available produced by SPICe, just to remind you of some things that went on.

Retailing in a very short space of time was redefined and classified into essential and non-essential, with considerable consequences.  Lockdowns became the norm with some initial panic buying but a longer-term focus on staying local and the extension of technology (for example online retailing but also contactless cards).  For convenience stores they were at least essential, but they brought new patterns, challenges and costs, as well as returns.

The impacts can be divided into sales shifts and behavioural questions.  “Hospitality” (in the broadest sense) sales switched to retail, digital sales rose dramatically and local businesses gained sales.  Convenience stores saw sales increase, basket size grow and market share expand.  This has dropped back a bit in 2021 but is still a positive story.

Behaviourally, the pandemic made many consumers (and others) focus on what was important to them and their communities.  There has been great questioning of how systems are structured and why, and who benefits (and who does not) leading to issues over sustainability and equity.  Convenience stores are at the heart of this, serving many communities, including some of those hardest hit by the pandemic.

We are now though, albeit in a bumpy fashion, beginning to live with the virus.  Physical shopping has grown, reducing the online peak.  Hospitality has opened up, and some travel.  Larger retailers via larger stores have regained some market share.  Previous patterns are re-establishing.

It is also the case though that new patterns are emerging, albeit all of these have very distinct demographic impacts.  Working from home has become a bigger thing.  Digital embeddedness has become more normal and where people live, work and move around is altering.  For convenience stores as this unfolds there will be opportunities, but in some areas, challenges.

So, what are my reflections?  Convenience stores did a great job, well.  They provided a vital support network for many individuals and communities.  More people realised what convenience stores are all about and can deliver, in person and increasingly digitally.  In all of this, the vital importance of ‘local’ has become ever more recognised and supported, with businesses and consumers reacting very positively.

As the First Minister said in March 2020, this is ‘the biggest challenge of our lifetimes’.  In meeting that challenge convenience stores play a vital role in delivering for people, places and the planet.  They can serve the needs of all communities and people in Scotland.  To do so we need to build on the recent progress and develop a system that ensures we are stronger and more locally resilient for the future, to the benefit of the local communities.

Posted in Community, Consumer Change, Convenience, Convenience stores, Covid19, Essential Retailing, Food Retailing, Independents, Internet shopping, Local Retailers, Lockdown, Pandemic, Panic buying, Retailing, Scottish Grocers Federation, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Axe Stores (this is a description not an instruction)

At the end of July I received an email from a freelance journalist, Steve Cain, seeking any information on Food Giant and Axe Stores. In normal times I know I had material somewhere in my office on Food Giant.  But Axe Stores rang no bells with me.  I tried a couple of colleagues, and Steve Burt responded as below:

This then led to a more detailed focused search via Google (the clue was PAM) which revealed the following piece in a book by Christopher Moir and John Dawson (Chapter by Grigor McClelland – Founder of the Manchester Business School, whose family firm was Laws Stores)

Source: Moir C and J A Dawson (1990) Competition and Markets: essays in honour of Margaret Hall

More importantly perhaps it led to Facebook page and a picture of an Axe Store and a post by an ex-manager.


For Steve Cain’s purpose this was fine and he has used the material in a piece which is published today in a host of local newspapers, and can be downloaded below. It contains the Axe photo from Facebook as above.

Beyond marvelling at the memory and database of my colleague, the outcome about Axe Stores was of some interest generally, but raises some questions about retail history and internationalisation.

We do not know why an Italian company chose to come to the UK.  The choice of Hintons is a little ‘left-field’ to say the least.  Why did this relationship break up?

Steve Burt’s memory was of a north-east of England chain, so the link to the stores in the South-West of England was unexpected.  But why would you run stores in two such dispersed parts of England?   How did this work and how was it managed?  Why did Axe Stores end? On these questions we have no answers … yet.

Steve Cain’s piece is about things we had forgotten that no longer existed in the food discount retail field.  Whilst circumstances meant I could not help on Food Giant (I know I have more) I at least learnt something about a chain I knew nothing about.

There is more to learn though and if anyone has anything of interest about Axe Stores please get in touch.

This episode has encouraged me to dig out my old 35mm slide collection of retail stores, much of which was scanned 15 years ago. I know that has a lot of 1970s and 1980s photos including interiors of discount stores of the time.  I can see an intermittent series of posts coming on these and other oddities.

Posted in Aldi, Axe Stores, Closure, Corporate History, Discounters, Food Retailing, Hintons, Historic Shops, International Retailing, Kwik Save, Laws Stores, Lidl, PAM Group, Retail Failure, Retail History, Retailers, Retailing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Great Tapestry of Scotland in Galashiels

A good few years ago, Anne Findlay and myself published a paper on the changing retail structure in the Borders using longitudinal data.  We titled this ‘Weaving new retail and consumer structures in the Scottish Borders,’ reflecting the weaving history of the area and the inter-dependencies across the area.

Weaving has appeared in this blog before when I covered the work of Anne Findlay in helping design and then stitch a panel for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry.  The panel – of course- had a retail theme being on Thomas Lipton (there is a range of various books about Lipton available and a nice blog post at Building Our Past on Lipton and his stores) – and its side association with William Low.  We were also lucky enough to host the travelling exhibition of some of that Tapestry in the University.

Last week, a different tapestry project finally opened to the public in a new permanent home for the Great Tapestry of Scotland.  Housed in a purpose-built building in the High Street of Galashiels this is intended as a suitable home (the weaving history again) and an attractor in the heart of one of the major Border towns.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland buikding in Galashiels

The building of the home in Galashiels has not been without some controversy and the new building too involved the removal of existing buildings, so it and the location have been both a little contentious and long awaited.  The building itself is designed by Page\Park (disclosure –oI work with them on a development under way at the University of Stirling) and it is an interestinge setting for the Tapestry (an unusual artefact to house) in my view. It is certainly a dramatic presence on the High Street.

The Tapestry itself is a wonder – the story of Scotland in 160 panels.  It is a visual and historic delight and I could spend a lot of time on the individual panels as well as the grand sweep of the Tapestry.  It is a delight and there are some fascinating facts, stories and comments in the written descriptions and narrative. It is also not without humour, as with the accurate but harsh commentary on Scottish rugby post the first international.

I was also taken by the panels on the New Towns of Scotland. From East Kilbride to Cumbernauld, this has been a challenging but interesting facet of Scottish urban change; something that has been covered in this blog before.

The location of the permanent display in the heart of a Borders town is a deliberate statement.  It could have been in one of our major cities, like so much else, or on some greenfield out-of-town site aimed at the car-borne.  But here, on the Borders railway, in the centre of Galashiels, the intent is clear.  This is intended as an asset for the town and the Borders.  An attractor for Scots and national and international visitors, preferably by more sustainable transport.  It is also set up as a catalyst to get people to explore and spend in Galashiels and the Borders.

Towns need assets and attractors.  The Great Tapestry of Scotland, whilst new, has in a way, come home.  It is a delight in its own right but adds to the strengthening of Galashiels and the Borders.  Let us wish it every success.

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Community Assets, Culture, Cumbernauld, East Kilbride, Exhibitions, Great Tapestry of Scotland, High Streets, New Towns, Places, Regeneration, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scottish Borders, Scottish Diaspora Tapestry, Streetscapes, Thomas Lipton, Town Centres, Towns | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Against All Odds” – Independent Business Success Stories

Over the last decade or so Bill Grimsey has carved out a niche in directing a review team to look at high streets, town centres and retailing and to present ideas for what we should do about improving them.  Summarising this body of work in a few words is not fair, but the emphasis has been on better place management, less reliance on chain businesses, more advanced use of technology and a fairer taxation system, especially replacing rates.  The original reviews (the first one a counterpoint to Mary Portas, and the second a few years later) and a more recent bounce back from Covid report (albeit as it now appears, early in the pandemic) are available online, and are worth reading – if nothing else as a antidote to the vacuous UK Government ‘strategy’ recently produced.  At least Grimsey knows his subject and takes it seriously, as opposed to a government led by a man who notoriously said “f**k business” and seems to be intent on doing just that.

So, the news a while back that Grimsey and his team were looking at the pandemic impacts on the independent retail sector was of interest.  The report was produced a few weeks ago. It is quite long, although with lots of glossy photographs, and strikes me as something of two competing parts.

When, ahead of publication, I saw the press release for the report, I will admit my heart sank.  It focused on a story of a debt mountain for independent businesses and a forecast of a ‘tsunami of closures’ (echoing a BRC statement of the previous month).  As soon as I read this, I could predict the headlines and press take-up, as that soundbite fits right into the currently preferred narrative about towns and high streets. It reinforced beliefs; and so to many said nothing new. Sure enough that is what happened – another pile on of gloom and despair (Guardian and BBC as just two examples).

However, the report is entitled ’Against All Odds’ with a subtitle focused on adaptation and survival, and it is that narrative that more than half the report focuses on.  Case studies of success stories abound, with fabulous examples of local and community support, business adaptation and true innovation in the teeth of the global pandemic.  Yes, independents have had it tough; there has been genuine unfairness around (supermarkets and others selling non-essential goods is but one), the playing field is not level, but was despair the right part of the story to lead with and to focus the press release on?

As the report notes, local independent retailers and services have kept society and communities together.  They’ve shown phenomenal levels of innovation, refocusing businesses, collaborating, adding social media and digital services and online sales where possible, and repositioning products and services to meet altered consumer demand.  They also provide a (human) sense of community and distinctiveness that consumers are valuing as we emerge from the pandemic.  An infrastructure, digital and physical, to support them is emerging. This is not to deny Grimsey’s essential point; this progress has been hard won and comes at a hefty (debt) price, and thus, an unfairness is perpetuated. But this story has two parts and only one was the focus of the media.

The question we should be focusing on is how do we do build more of this independent success?  What further support can be provided?  Here the Grimsey solution of loans into grants (and his comparison with government action along these lines in France is telling about giovernment seriousness and priorities), a fairer system overall, a stronger voice locally and nationally for small operators, a sales tax instead of rates and so on make sense.  We should be concerned about the pressures independent businesses have been (differentially) put under and we should seek to reduce these burdens.  But focusing on a ‘tsunami of closures’ as the starting point seems to me to allow those in power to shrug about inevitability.  So, Bill’s tweet asking why the UK Government has collectively ignored the report (and the underlying issues), was possibly a predictable outcome. We need a more direct challenge to what we should value, what is important and why and what we have to support and should not be supporting (as Grimsey did on pandemic rates relief return for large essential retailers).

So please read the Grimsey ‘Open All Hours’ report but do so with a view of looking at celebrating and amplifying the brilliant, positive stories and then working as hard as you (we) can to make sure far more innovation and success of this form becomes the norm locally and internationally.  In that way maybe we can rebalance the narrative and better reflect the reality, whilst working to remove the inequity. The battle for the type of places and retailing we want has only just started, but I don’t think it can be won by a doom and closure narrative.

Posted in Bill Grimsey, Closure, Covid19, Finance, Government, Home Delivery, Independents, Innovation, Local Retailers, Online Retailing, Rates, Retailers, Retailing, Small Shops, Start-ups | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Economic Trends in the Retail Sector, Great Britain: 1989 to 2021

In late July, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) produced a short article on economic trends in GB in the retail sector since 1989, examining how retail sales fit in with the wider economic climate, including over time, long-term trends seen, recent growth rates and some international comparisons.

As we are all aware the retail sector is a large component of the national economy.  Since 1989 the volume of retail sales has doubled compared to a 17% rise in population and a 68% rise in household disposable income per capita.  Within this headline doubling there are both consistencies and massive alterations.

The food sector remains the largest sector, though of course its make-up has changed since 1989 in terms of the size and location of stores, the range of products carried and the development into discount and convenience operations.  Between 2013 and 2019 there was a slight decline in the food sector, but this reversed during the pandemic and the boost food stores had through differential lockdowns.

Elsewhere in other sectors, the equipment, games and toys sector grew very strongly (451%) whereas alcohol and tobacco volumes have fallen (76%) as have books, newspapers and periodicals.  The latter sector has of course moved considerably online (and e-books are classified as a service so not in the retail sector here).

This rise of non-store sales is of course the marked story over the period since 1989.  But the article notes that this is not an even pattern with non-store sales halving to a low of 4.4% of retail sales in 2003.  Now, and pandemic accelerated, the figure for this measure in this series is 16.5% in 2020.  Online retail sales (a different measure to non-store sales) have increased from 3.4% of all retail sales in 2007 to 27.9% in 2020.

Perhaps suprisingly the increase in total spend online and in-store since 2007 has moved in a broadly similar way, until the pandemic (see figure from article below).  This perhaps counter-intuitive result (if the belief is a switch/substitution effect to pure online from in-store) is ascribed by the ONS to the rise in total population and household income, shifting convenience store patterns and the increase in retail sales overall in value terms.


The international comparisons show quite remarkable divergence.  In the countries examined, the UK and the Netherlands stand out for online retail growth between 2000 and 2020.  Overall (i.e. all retail) the UK, Canada and France saw the greatest rises in retail sales volumes between 1995 and 2021, in start contrast to Japan and Italy where retail sales have shrunk.


This is a very short article and perhaps there is not a lot in it that will come as too much of a surprise to many.  It is very useful though, and interesting to see the long-term changes and to put some data on some sector and international comparisons.

ONS (2021) Economic trends in the retail sector, Great Britain: 1989 to 2021.  Available for download at:

Posted in Consumer Change, Covid19, Food Retailing, Internet shopping, Lockdown, Longitudinal Data, Office for National Statistics, Online Retailing, Retail Change, Retail Economy, Retail Sales, Retailing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conversation Piece: High-street strategy: recovery will take more than street parties and more bins

On the 15th July, the UK Government published its new high street strategy for England “Build Back Better: High Streets”. I was asked by The Conversation to prepare a peice about the strategy, its links to Covid recovery and its chances of success.

The resulting Conversation piece has now been published and can be read in its entirety here. As ever with writing in that form, there are compromises and trying to explain compex issues simply in a short space can be a challenge (well, for me).

I don’t intend to simply reblog the piece here, as the layout and embedded visuals are part of what The Conversation does and add to my words. The final piece covers the myth of the “death of the high street” and the relationship between high streets and town centres and communities. It links to the changes brought on by the pandemic before considering the published strategy and its five priorities and the chances of success.

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I think the strategy (if it can be called that) is missing key elements and in my view is a cosmetic exercise that does not either understand, nor address, the fundamental issues that underpin the changes we are seeing in high streets and town centres. We should reflect that in many places things are much better than the headlines would us believe. Those successes are often due to a focus on local businesses, local enterprise and engagement and making sure communities are engaged, involved and empowered. I don’t believe this strategy helps that.

The Prime Minister’s Foreward is worth a read to get a feel for the document. I would sum it up as “look on the bright side” (and after all almost 30% of the pages contain photos of high streets and town centres in full sun). He makes a plea for lots more pavement cafes as it rains more in Naples, Italy than it does in Nottingham and for communities to come together on a National High Streets Day to clean up their high streets. Add to that money for more bins and you can be forgiven for being concerned that some of the fundamental problems and steps needed are not on his radar. Then there is the real worry of the damage that could be done by some of the implementation of spending plans and permitted development rights (as the TCPA commissioned research noted this week).

But, you can make up your own minds. The strategy is here, my Conversation piece is here. As I covered much of the background before, I end with a summary of the concluding part of my Conversation piece

“The government’s new “build back better” high street strategy lays out five priorities: breathe new life into empty buildings, support high street businesses, improve the public realm, create safe and clean spaces, and celebrate pride in local communities.

It is hard to discern what is new in all this and what the government’s real commitments are. For a strategy aimed at, as it states on page three, “clearing away pointless red tape”, it is heavy on reviews to be undertaken and guidelines, codes and manuals to be adhered to. The strategy does contain some welcome elements. It focuses on tackling empty buildings and freeing up space on pavements and roads for cafes and restaurants to add vibrancy. It highlights the need for more green space and increased investment in historic buildings.

Conversely, it has very little to say on the fundamental issues: business rates and operational costs; the inequality of car parking charges between town centres and out-of-town developments; the costs related to other modes of transport and access. It does not address ownership models for retail spaces, or the wider costs and logistics of operating on the high street. And it does not mention support for the local, independent businesses hit by the pandemic. Instead, it lays out controversial ways in which the government is relaxing (and seeking to further relax) planning and building-use regulations.

Providing money to local authorities does not necessarily empower communities. Beyond noting the need for an emotional connection between people and place, however, the plan is silent about how to include and engage those communities.

Research has highlighted several crucial needs: focused spending on local businesses; tackling problematic behaviour by corporations and absentee landlords; a rethink of how development and operational and fiscal systems might encourage – and not penalise – high-street activity.

By not considering the retail high street in the context of the people it serves, and in omitting these crucial needs, this strategy appears mostly a cosmetic one. It revolves around short-term lets for buildings, cleaner spaces (more bins) and street parties. We know recovery – and a sustainable high street future – requires much more than that.”

The Conversation piece was reblogged on the 9th September 2021 in the Business Reporter

Posted in community wealth building, Festivals, Government, High Streets, Independents, Local Retailers, Mary Portas, Permitted Development Rights, Places, Planning, Policy, Public Policy, Public Realm, Regeneration, Regulation, Retailers, Retailing, Streetscapes, Town Centres | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Should Large Retail Stores be Open or Closed on New Year’s Day (Ne’erday) in Scotland ?

Invitation to Respond to Consultation (closing date 24th August 2021)

A Scottish Government consultation seeking the views of business, retailers and shop workers on New Year’s Day trading has been published. Running for 10 weeks until 24 August, the consultation aims to determine whether the current law should change and restrict large retailers from trading on New Year’s Day as is the case on Christmas Day.

Affected stakeholders, including large retailers and their staff, are strongly encouraged to participate in the consultation which follows a parliamentary petition (driven by the shopworkers union, USDAW) calling for trading on 1 January to be prohibited. Responses from anyone can also be made.

In launching the consultation, Public Finance Minister Tom Arthur said:

“The last year has shown how much we all rely on retailers and their staff who have supported the country during the pandemic. As we look at recovery and building a sustainable economy we need to consider what will support businesses and their staff in the future. Following a petition to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee calling for trading to be banned on New Year’s Day, the Scottish Government has been engaging with business groups, trades unions and others to understand what impact this would have on business and staff. This consultation will help us to determine whether the current law should change and restrict large retailers from trading on New Year’s Day, as they currently do on Christmas Day.”


The Christmas and New Year’s Day Trading (Scotland) Act 2007 (the Act) stops large retail stores from opening on Christmas Day. The responses in the consultation will help Scottish Government Ministers decide whether to make an Order under the Act that large shops should also close on New Year’s Day.

The Act applies to all retail businesses that have 280 m or more of floor space for customers including that used for display purposes. In addition to those shops that do not have a floor space of 280 m or more, other businesses are exempt from this law and include:

  • businesses that wholly or mainly sell meals, refreshments or alcohol for consuming on the premises, such as pubs, restaurants, cafes
  • businesses that sell meals or refreshments to order for consuming off the premises such as takeaways
  • registered pharmacies that are open only to dispense prescription drugs, medicines or appliances
  • businesses sited within a port, railway station or commercial airport
  • businesses in a motorway service area
  • businesses that wholly or mainly sell fuel for motor vehicles (petrol stations)

Larger shops are currently permitted to trade on New Year’s Day in the other home nations but are required to close on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday (not Scotland), and are subject to trading restrictions on Sundays (not Scotland).

There are further details of the petition and its background available, with the full consultation paper and supporting documents also available. There is particular interest in seeking views of retail businesses and shop workers, but anyone can respond to the consultation questions via the Citizens Space site.

The Points of Contention

I have never felt the need, desire, or on occasions, the capability, to go shopping on New Year’s Day, though I know people who do and have. The petition and thus the consultation was started by USDAW, and not suprisingly they feel that shop workers deserve a day off at this particularly Scottish festive time. They argue that this is about people’s wellbeing and family and social life. The details of their views can be found via the links above. Not suprisingly also, the Scottish Retail Consortium (representing the large store retailers) are against the plan, arguing for freedom of choice for businesses, consumers and workers, sector unfairness if only confined to large retail outlets (why not small stores, hospitality and so on) and the perverse stimulus this might give to online retailing as opposed to retailing in city and town centres, and other forms. Their views are also available via the links above.

Similar arguments have been made around Christmas Day of course (and Easter Sunday elsewhere in the UK). Much depends on your view of the specialness of these days, and in this case, New Year’s Day, and what that special nature should be about. Is it about families enjoying each other’s company or about families going out, including here, shopping? But at what cost, and to whom? There can be a premium for working on New Year’s Day, which may attract some workers, but then there can be the feeling of compulsion in some quarters. One person’s freedom to shop is another’s requirement (or desire) to work.

Whatever your view, have your say.

Posted in Christmas, Competition, Consumers, Employees, Employment, Internet shopping, New Years Day, Online Retailing, Opening Hours, Petitions, Regulation, Retailers, Retailing, Scotland, Scottish Government, Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Retailing, Sunday Trading, USDAW | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grocery Market Shares in Great Britain 1997-2021

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I have, since 1997, been using Kantar data to look at the changing grocery market shares in Great Britain.  Taking July data each year this series now extends almost a quarter of century.  I have reflected on this series before both generally and specifically last year in the eye of the pandemic and lockdown.

The data for this July have now been released and as ever I encourage you to go to the original and have a play around with their tools and also check out their recent commentary.

In my post of last year, I focused on a range of (for me) interesting points.   In the heart of the pandemic the grocery market expanded, local and independent businesses grow market share, online increased considerably (as did frozen food) but the leading retailers all lost market share.  Asda and Aldi seemed to be particularly adversely affected, as well as Waitrose.

Source: Kantar Worldpanel, data is July each year

The table shows the market share data for 2019, 2020 and 2021.  The grocery market is no longer as buoyant as before as lockdowns and restrictions on a range of activities and sectors recede.  Hospitality opening up for example has affected grocery sales and online figures.  The table shows that Tesco and Sainsbury have rebounded to previous market share levels, but that Asda and Morrisons remain at their lower level (something that the new owners of Asda and possible new owners of Morrisons will be interested in).  Aldi has also recovered growth (as has Waitrose).  Conversely the co-operatives and the symbols/independents seem to be settling back, though remaining above the 2019 figures.

In short, the pattern pre-pandemic seems to be restabilising itself.

This is also shown in the long run graph below, focusing on market share since 1997 for the leading three grocery retailers and the discounters.  The discounter rise has resumed but Asda are back where they started in 1997. 

Source: Kamtar Worldpanel, data is July each year

The CR3 data shows the market share of the top 3 in the grocery market in Great Britain.  Last year it had reduced rapidly to 55.7%; close to where it was in 1997.  This however has altered this year as CR3 has increased to 56.3%.  This is the first increase in this measure for some years; steady decline had been the trend, showing the impact of the discounters. This year’s level is still well below the CR3 measure 2007 peak. It is also below 2019 (57.4%), re-establishing the rate of decline seen pre-pandemic.

Source: Calculated from Kantar Worldpanel data (July)
Posted in Aldi, Asda, Competition, Consumers, Convenience, Cooperatives, Discounters, Food Retailing, Grocery, Independents, Internet shopping, Kantar, Lidl, Local Retailers, Longitudinal Data, Market Shares, Ocado, Retail Change, Retailers, Sainsbury, Tesco | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Small Shops: Brian Lomas

I have just been alerted (thanks to @LeighVBird) to a book recently published by the modernist on the topic of Small Shops. It consists of 45 black and white photographs of small shops from North Manchester, taken in the early 1980s – and a self photograph of the photographer Brian Lomas from the same period.

There are no words of description or commentary on the photographs. Each one is simply captioned with the line of business, the broad location and the year. Most, though not all, are of the exterior of the shops.

It is a lovely little book, redolent of a different time. Yet, this is an era I can recognise and stores that seem familiar in form, if not detail. It is hard (for me at least) to think of these being almost 40 years ago, yet of the 1980s.

No doubt readers, in looking at the photographs will make their own thoughts about the shops, society and economy and what we have lost and/or gained since then. At this point in time, the out of town superstore era was about to mushroom, the Thatcher government was massively relaxing planning restrictions and big retail was booming (the start of the era of “Cathedrals of Consumption”). These photos are the last rites on a dying format.

Orginal ophoto by Brian Lomas

Yet, they hold fascination, meaning and hope for me.

Many of the shops show their history. Located in populated streets, often on the corner of intersections of houses (see also for example the Welsh Dairies in London and many of the Sanders Bros sites discussed before) and with detailed design and tiling, these stores are of the place and community and of the time. They wear their history, of the location or of the shop and shout their embeddedness in their community. Their personality and individuality shine out from their design and idiosyncrasies.  Yet, these photographs were capturing the stores at the end of their lives; indeed many of these buildings may have now gone. The decline is obvious in the detail and the radical change to large format mass retailing soon swept them away.

Perhaps though we are now in a different cycle and place. Community and local independent businesses are increasingly recognised and valued. We desire again that store personality and individuality. Creativity, craft and local traceability are more significant again. And we thankfully seem to be valuing better design, a sense of place and protecting some of the legacies of the past (see Ships in the Sky in this regard). Retailing and places need to be interesting and engaging. This book reminds us of the power of personality.

To coincide with the book, the modernist is hosting an exhibition of 24 of the photographs in its gallery at 58 Port Street, Manchester, until 1st September. Details and how to order the book can be found at the modernist.

Brian Lomas (2021) Small Shops. Gomer Press. ISBN 9780109264718-0-1.

Posted in Architecture, Community, Consumer Change, Food Retailing, Historic Shops, History, Independents, Local Retailers, Manchester, Neighbourhood, Retail Change, Retailing, Small Shops, Social Change, Urban, Urban History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland Loves Local: The Next Phase

As part of the response to the pandemic and the focus that has been turned onto neighbourhoods, localities and local businesses, the Scotland Loves Local campaign was launched in late July 2020. It proved to “hit the spot” with many people, consumers, communities and businesses.

Some of this hugely positive response derived from the exploration of local neighbourhoods that was “forced” on people during lockdown. This led to a recognition of the sheer variety and scale of local businesses and the quality they provide. A more fundamental point however is the increasing recognition of the role of local businesses and communities in providing economic and social strength at a local level. Independent, local, community and social businesses are the economic and social “glue” of communities, and more and more people are recognising this, and acting accordingly. Supporting local businesses in local communities provides enhanced local value through money, jobs, engagement and community.

Scotland Loves Local Awards

The breadth and depth of this Scotland Loves Local movement has been considerable and at the end of June to recognise again this tremendous local effort, the Scotland Loves Local Awards were announced as opened for nominations. These Awards recognise individuals and organisations which are making a difference to life in their area, The Awards are organised by Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP) to celebrate all that is great about towns and neighbourhoods – recognising creativity and commitment towards shaping a sustainable successful future. Further details, how to nominate for the various categories and important dates including the Awards ceremony can be found at Scotland Loves Local.

Scotland Loves Local Gift Card

The next phase of Scotland Loves Local launched this week, with the announcement of a Scotland Loves Local Gift Card, backed by Scottish Government, organised by Scotland’s Towns Partnership and delivered with Perth-based fintech specialist Miconex (who have a long standing interest in place marketing and the role of data and gift cards). This will see the creation of Gift Cards for each of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, each of which can be spent in that specific region.

STP and Miconex are working with local authorities to launch the regional gift cards, with the first year of costs being met by the Scottish Government as part of its £10m of support for Scotland Loves Local. There are no registration costs for businesses. Payments are processed as part of the Mastercard network. Local cards will be rolled out in a series of regional launches over the coming months, as councils agree to promote the programme in their area.

Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth Minister Tom Arthur urged businesses across the country to sign up to be part of it. “The Gift Card is a quick and efficient way to encourage spend and drive sales growth in our local economies. Thanks to Scottish Government funding, this is the first of its kind on a national scale and I look forward to seeing businesses benefit from the opportunities it presents. In the coming months we will further bolster the Scotland Loves Local (SLL) campaign with the second tranche of our SLL Fund, helping communities revitalise their own towns or neighbourhoods, building wealth and delivering greater, greener and fairer prosperity.”

Directors of The Guild Dumfries, from left, Kirsten Scott, Natalie Farrell and Leah Halliday, promoting the new Scotland Loves Local Gift Card in Dumfries town centre. Stuart Walker Photography 2021

As businesses emerge from Covid restrictions and high streets fully reopen and resume trading, the gift card can benefit local people, local businesses and individual local economies. Local businesses have been there for their communities over the past year, and this scheme allows local people to further support them. Spending through a Scotland Loves Local Gift Card has multiplier effects which go far beyond the point of purchase. Using the card keeps people within their local area, supporting businesses as they buy. Research shows that most money spent in the local economy is then respent locally, further supporting local jobs and making local businesses more sustainable. Add to that the local product and services purchases and employment generated by local businesses and it is easy to see why local spending is worth millions of pounds to Scotland’s local and regional economies.

Scotland Loves Local Fund

As noted in my recent review in this blog of the STP year, The Scotland Loves Local Fund was launched in October 2020 to improve and promote local place and communities through capital or revenue grants of between £500 and £5,000. Projects included small scale local improvements, including those contributing locally to net-zero targets and supporting localised responses in town and settlement centres, such as, ‘Love Local’ marketing campaigns, environmental/place improvement, digital trading infrastructure, safe trading facilities, town signage/maps and local marketplace initiatives.  With 193 individual town applications and 35 awards to multi-town partnership projects, the fund supported 261 towns across Scotland. The next tranche of finance for this fund will hopefully have a similar or greater reach and impact.

Think Local First

Communities and local spend and engagement have become ever more important over the past 18 months. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic a key focus of STP has been the Scotland Loves Local campaign, designed to encourage the public to ‘think local first’ and support their high streets safely and in line with public health guidelines. The Awards are there to recognise the amazing efforts that have been made. The Gift Card, further locking in spend to local communities and local businesses and multiplying its local impact, enhances the efforts underway across Scotland to strengthen local communities. The next tranche of the Scotland Loves Local Fund will add further to this momentum.

As Chair of STP I obviously believe in all this endeavour and am delighted by the support of Scottish Government and other partners (see website) setting the conditions for local communities to do what is best for them. However, as I also noted in my Report of the Review Group into the Town Centre Action Plan we need to combine this positive endeavour for a sustainable future with creating the conditions for development and activity to be naturally focused in our town centres and neighbourhoods, places and communities and not disaggregated and decentralised to their detriment. Scotland Loves Local has energised so many people and places across Scotland, and the new announcements will build on that; we need now to also ensure we continue to build on this basis. Think Local First applies not only to the public but to all tiers of government and all those involved in development and planning.

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