Why support local shops?
Fifty years ago most people bought their food from markets or specialist food shops in their local towns. Shops employed lots of people and money spent supported local economies. People travelled less distances to shops often walking. Food, being more locally sourced, was much fresher and had less packaging.
Today, more than £76 billion is spent on groceries and more than 80% goes to the Supermarkets. Asda Walmart is now the world's largest company by turnover and Tesco takes one in every three pounds spent in the UK. People travel in cars to out of town centres rather than using local shops (and spending more money in them) whilst collecting groceries. Huge quanitities of food is purchased in bulk, coming from thousands of miles away often picked weeks in advance and then over packaged. It is estimated that fewer than 2% of the supermakets' lines are local, compared to most local shops where 95% stock a significant proportion of local lines. Fewer staff are employed per £ spent in supermarkets and less money stays in the economy. Farmers and producers are getting a raw deal too - aggressive dealing and pricing is certainly not in their best interests.
Smaller independent shops and rural retailers struggle to compete. In 1995 there were 230 000 local shops and postoffices etc. In 2002 it was 185 000 and there will be just 140 000 by 2009 it is predicted. The rate of loss of independent shops continually increases.
What a depressing picture! What has happened? We are a busy family - we need to buy nappies, big tubs of washing powder, what seems like loads of food and the supermarkets were our preferred method of shopping for many years - online even more "fantastic" - or so we thought.
Friends of the Earth and the interest in local food and food miles convinced us otherwise. Moving to Modbury who were runners up in the Best Rural Shops Competition and have great local shops also challenged our buying patterns.
So how has the conversion been for us? Our bread is warm and collected by popping over the road whenever we need it. We can get everything from a bunch of daffodils, fresh olives, Devon local beef, a salmon fillet, lose dog food, a million DIY things from Mr Pickles Hardware shop, fine art, a hair cut, false nails (errh!), locally grown vegetables, freshly squeezed orange juice and locally smoked fish from our local shops. We're actually spoilt rotten. We have a few problems with people getting parked it is true but the shops employ lots of local people and provide great services for us all and you don't need to waste fuel going.
One of the minor problems we had was that working full-time and needing to get tea cooked, although we wanted to use them we didn't expect them to stay open until our children were tucked up for our convenience. If local shops could collaborate on internet and home delivery or businesses like ours could offer the services instead, we think all bases are covered. It's a terrible fact that more than half of shopkeepers never get to take holidays at all and 67% said they work seven days and week and 12 hour days. This isn't healthy for our society but small shops feel obliged to do so because of trying to offer convenience. Supermarkets have bought the convenience we craved but at what price?
The Modbury Chamber of Commerce and the Very Busy Burda looked into price comparisons as have we (see our article on pricing). The only worry we had was if we did commit to using local shops would we have to pay more - surely local shops can't compete with supermarkets? It is not easy. We certainly make less profit per unit (Tescos sell Green and Blacks 1p more than we buy it and we pay VAT!) and sometimes it is indeed impossible on some lines but on others we are much cheaper because food is local. For shops to survive, you need lots not few customers to keep costs down. Then shop keepers and locals can make a living in our rural shops and rural and local communities kept alive.
Buy local food - it's thousands of miles fresher and better for your community.
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Copyright The Local Food Company, August 2006