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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Retailing Gone Adrift

Nothing to do with transport this time. Reports today that ASDA and Sainsbury's are to merge or otherwise join into a conglomerate but retaining seperate identity is yet another large nail plunged into this country's already ailing high street and retailing sector. The laughable statement that the merger will be good for their customers and inexorably lead to a reduction in food prices by 10% is going to be at the expense of someone. That someone will be a combination of 'hard working people' losing their jobs at all levels; a push to force down purchasing prices of farm commodities (but probably not the chocolate producers and their corporate ilk), whilst edging prices up on non food items and reducing their properties up and down the landscape.

A walk around Blackpool town centre and local centres such as Layton, Bispham, Mereside and Highfield Road is evidence of the cancerous forces at work on what we were once accustomed to over past decades. Whereas there was a healthy mix of specialist retailers : greengrocers (remember them ?); ironmongers (long gone); just plain grocers - a dying breed; haberdashers and clothing stores for men and ladies (seperate of course); shoe stores; sweet shops; newsagents, fishmongers! and many other specialist 'mongers' and trades whose premises are now given over to tattoo parlours, betting shops, amusement arcades (whose amused? the punters shovelling coins, cards and more into what we call once upon a time 'one-armed' bandits) - I hardly think so. Then there are the charity shops; most if not many, operating as retail businesses turning over brand new products purchased at heavy discount, and flogged at a commercial rate alongside donated bric a brac. Pound stores by any name you want to come up with in an era when a pound actually buys very little of value and the brand name is itself destined for a rebranding 'two pound store' anyone?

The local garage has become a retail centre where food and chocolates are dominant shelf fillers, oh and of course not forgetting the must have a coffee from some inflated brand dispensed in plastic throwaway containers. In fact garages or petrol stations as we once called them have now engorged into mini supermarkets even to the extent of becoming your local post office. No doubt some will merge with funeral directors (once we called them undertakers). Take a look at ownership where the once independent local garage, complete with mechanic and repairs, has given way to becoming an extension of the equivalent of Tesco's or Morrisons.

Not content with selling everything to anyone - retailing has become a great race to the bottom of corporate greed and extortion of the innocent and unwary. Take WH Smith and its enormous pile of sweets and chocolates thrust at everyone approaching the single 'minimum wage' and usually casual labour or zero hour contract person manning the tills - whilst always (store policy) urging a last purchase of chocolate over the counter. Or McColls who pile their floor space and counter space with same unhealthy items produced in anonymous factories in eastern and central europe - and promoted in ever more diverse wrappers to tempt one's tastebuds. However they are far from being the only retailers seeking to raise the value of your modest purchase with non essential and usually unhealthy impulse buy. Just take a look at the rows and rows of crisp brands cluttering at least one complete aisle in any store - accompanied inevitably by gallons of plastic containers with sugar laden fizzy drinks masquerading in many cases as 'healthy' or 'energy' refreshment. They are all at it now with some notable rare exceptions.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's attempts on national television in a series to waken the good citizens of Newcastle (Upon Tyne) to the real importance (to their health) of consuming fresh vegetables, fruit and natural unprocessed food - is an object warning of what we are now becoming - at the behest of uncaring, cynical and manipulative retailing corporate monsters who twist their tentacles around communities large and small. Shame on them, their management and shareholders. Yes I like chocolate, yes I like some comestibles which are not necessarily good for my health, waistline or self-esteem. But the generations now piling into shops after school or grabbing ready made 'meals' so-called, of any brand - well no wonder the NHS budget is going into the stratosphere. The problems GP surgeries, care facilities at all levels of the NHS are facing now are nothing to what is going to confront them in the imminent future. Having at least managed to get a grip on tobacco and that industry (and lobby) its now needing to face down the purveyors of sugar, salt and additives carefully hidden to encourage each one of us to remove ourselves as far away from the kitchen and actually cooking food as possible. Just walk down your local 'shopping' street and count the number of 'takeaway/takeout/and 'just eat' signs cluttering your view - we're doomed, we're all doomed. Sorry about the lack of transport in this blog.

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