It has been announced that the frozen food retailer 'Iceland' has bought 51 of the recently closed Woolworths stores which should lead to the creation of 2,500 new jobs. Of particular interest in my two counties is the fact that we have been chosen to have two of these: Bodmin in Cornwall and Exmouth in Devon.
Apart from the obvious but rare good news on the employment front another big plus is the fact that these new stores will help to maintain the vibrancy of our town centres. I think most people would agree that the really massive change in retailing in the last twenty or more years has been the development of out-of-town superstores. Like them or loathe them they are a fact of life but inevitably there has been a knock on effect on the viability of High Street shops. As an aside I'll just mention that Tesco are moving forward on their plans to have a new store on the edge of Callington, a smallish town 5 miles to the west of here. What really gets me is the statement by Tesco that a new store would bring extra people into Callington. This is total codswallop! It won't work like that, people will drive to the new Tesco, make it their one-stop shop and drive home again. I'm not saying shoppers should or shouldn't do this, I'm just pointing out that 99% of them won't be enhancing the business of the shops in the heart of that town.
In the lovely country town of Tavistock, over the Devon border but only four miles away there was a small but well loved Woolies, now closed of course. Tavistock's population has expanded to I don't know what to be honest but it must be 10 to 12,000 people. In addition to a large number of independent shops the town centre is host to a small 'Boots' and small 'WH Smith'. On the food side there are somewhat cramped for space Somerfields and Co-op supermarkets whilst separate greengrocers and butchers still make a living. There is also an excellent pannier market open several days of the week. Go now to the outskirts of the town and there is a quite large Morrisons; reinforcing what I said about Tesco earlier it's as if the Morrisons and the town centre shops are in separate universes. One thing that has happened in recent times is that the wet fish sellers in the town have now given up and I know disgruntled individuals making the special trip to Morrisons not because they love the place but because they want to buy some decent fish.
When I go into Tavistock I have to say that I like to use the smaller shops and pannier market in addition to going to Morrisons. Time of day and whether I am using car or bus influence where I go to make my relatively small amount of purchases. I do like the smaller shops and passionately believe in keeping town centres alive and kicking. But there is no denying there are benefits in shopping in the larger superstores although the buildings themselves don't add any individuality to their surroundings.
One thing to finish on - the staff in the town centre stores and in Morrisons are top notch. I'm not a shopaholic, nothing like one but I think most people would agree that you get a good shopping experience in Tavistock!