SUPERMARKETS

SUPERMARKETS have taken over the retail sale of food in this country, and in those remote county areas, where small food outlets still remain, they are all branches or franchises of national or international chains. They are all set out like mini-supermarkets; i.e. shops where you select your goods from the shelves and take them in a trolley to the till. Yet this great change in shopping has happened in my lifetime.

When I first used to accompany my mother shopping we would go into a small grocer’s shop about three quarters of mile from my home. There we could see (but not touch) the groceries on the shelves, because they were on the other side of the counter. ‘Can I have a tin of beans please,’ Mummie would ask, perhaps pointing to a tin of Heinz baked beans (the only tinned beans available were baked beans, and Heinz had the baked bean market sown up). The shopkeeper – Mr Spalding or his wife in this case – would take down a tin and add them to the purchased goods behind the counter. My mother would not take them and put them in her shopping basket until she had counted out the change and paid for them.

This was in the village shop. In the city there were a number of larger shops, like the Co-op and the Maypole. There was even a Sainsbury’s, but they were all still just grocers’ shops.  At Sainsbury’s the procedure was slightly different; you would still stand at the counter where the shop attendant would cut your bacon or cheese, but then he or she (normally the latter) handed you a chit; this you took to a separate desk where a cashier took your money and gave a receipt. You then took it back to the shop assistant who handed you your goods. It was a very hygienic system whereby the handling of money was kept well away from the handling of food. This made the purchase a rather long-winded affair; you can see why supermarkets caught on.

The first supermarket to arrive in Norwich was Downsway in St Stephens which opened in about 1968. This was closely followed by Keymarkets at the other end of the same street. Also in St Stevens, between these two, Sainsbury’s opened a supermarket; their previous grocer’s shop with the cashier had been in Gentleman’s Walk. Tesco opened up in Guildhall Hill and there were others whose names have vanished long ago; Fine Fare was one; David Greig and the International were others. These were all town centre shops; there were no out-of-town supermarkts for at least a decade. The first one in Norwich was Asda on the corner of Drayton Road and the Ring Road, where it remains today. Before then the site was a corn field! I remember it well.

These shops were all in Norwich; further out in the sticks the process of introducing supermarkets was much slower. There is still a little local resistance to the modern way of shopping; Sheringham for instance long resisted the introduction of Tesco, although it has now succumbed. You can still find a few independent  butchers and bakers in the larger villages.  Reepham is too small to support even a Tesco Express; its main retailer is a franchised branch of Spar. It retains an independent greengrocer in the town square, which doubly unusual; not only are independent food outlets rare, so too are greengrocers. There is a fine line between a community being too small for a national chain of shops to open a local branch, and being so small that it cannot support a shop at all.

The most recent development has been the arrival of the European discounters like Aldi and Lidl. The first of these no frills outlets I became aware of was the Danish firm Netto, which opened a shop in Dereham over twenty years ago, but the brand was never a great success. Netto is now no more in this country, having been bought out by rivals. From this rather shaky beginning the discount stores have dented the profits of all the big four (i.e. Tesco, Morrison, Sainsbury and Asda). They have spread to the larger market towns, and I went shopping in a branch of Lidl in Cromer only the other week.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

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