I live in a “Tesco town”, apparently. There are certainly a lot of Tesco stores around here.
I’ve not really felt bothered to give my opinion on the new Tesco Express in Stokes Croft before. For one reason, it’s several miles away from me. What do I care if they build 20 Tesco stores down there? This week though, I did a bit of reading up on the subject, after it was mentioned in Venue Magazine.
I’m always a bit wary of Stokes Croft. Inner-city graffiti can be nice, but there are aspects of it that are very run-down, and a few buildings that either need maintaining properly, or knocking down altogether. I used to go through it every Thursday evening, after I did a hospital radio show, and me and the other guys from the station would discuss Stokes Croft. In the last few years it has had a few refurbishments at either end, and there was much debate among two of my passengers, as to whether having a few new buildings makes everybody else up their game. Would this regeneration of the area catch on and spread, enhancing the whole area? After all, no business owner wants to have the ugly shop surrounded by the shiny new ones, do they?
Jesters Comedy Club was a business which occupied the now-Tesco-Express. It moved up the road to larger premises, leaving their old site empty. For whatever reason, it remained empty for a number of years, until Tesco wanted to make it into another store.
It seems Tesco wasn’t wanted in Stokes Croft. Residents opposed it, there has been allegations that the council didn’t ensure that proper checks were carried out, allegations that Tesco had lied, that the application was put through in the names of other businesses, and all sorts. I’m not going to comment on any of those, because I don’t have legitimate sources of information on them.
Fight the Power
There were two websites set up that were very much against the new Tesco store. These were/are boycotttesco.org.uk and http://notesco.wordpress.com.
After much rallying, and Tesco employing full time security staff while it was being refurbished, the store finally opened on the 15th April 2011. There was protesting outside it continuously from then until just after the police attempted to evict some squatters from a building across the road on the 21st April, apparently believing that the occupants were producing petrol bombs to attack the store. The squatters had all been asked to leave anyway, so they presumably expected to be forcibly removed, or else leave of their own accord – at some point in the near future.
Somehow the combination of police evicting squatters, combined with the locals’ hatred of a small convenience store, and the possible petrol-bomb link between the two, escalated into a riot, starting on the 21st and continuing into the 22nd April, resulting in this (photo via @pearcafe) and the closure of Tesco. I hadn’t been in prior to the damage/riots, but had driven past a few times, and seen people suggesting I should beep if I hate Tesco. I didn’t beep. A horn isn’t for joining in other peoples’ crusades. I also don’t beep for peace, or if I think the Iraq war was a bad idea. (There are superb photos of the aforementioned riots, taken by Jonathan Taphouse, here.)
The riots were completely stupid. I was following it via Twitter, complete with up-to-the-minute photos, and not-too-bad video footage (modern technology is incredible, isn’t it). As with any riot, there’s the usual arseholes who charge the police, or (despite living miles away) get out of bed and go down there, for “solidarity” or some shit. These are the same people who’ll later complain that they got injured in some way, or a policeman hit them in their stupid face.
There was people on Twitter saying “I wish I could be there”. What is wrong with you? It’s a riot. It’s not a good thing.
There was the usual boasts about how the police tried to get people to leave in one direction, and the crowd forced them back. Why? Just leave for goodness sake.
Somebody on Radio Bristol the morning afterwards, complained that police didn’t tell the crowds to disperse. Isn’t it obvious? There’s loads of people smashing shit up, shouting at the police and setting fire to things. That says to me that if you’re not the police, and you’re not one of the people setting fire to things, to get the fuck out of there. Doesn’t it to you?
A couple of years ago, I was driving my car through part of St Pauls when I saw a police riot van blocking the road. I tell you what I didn’t do. I didn’t get out of my car, and run down to see what it was about. I didn’t ‘fight the power’, or heckle the police. It’s none of my fucking business what they’re doing, and whether or not the people they’re seeing are innocent. I’m not a jury. The police are obviously there for legal reasons – not to deliberately piss people off. So, I did what any person with a brain would do, and thought “if there’s riot vans here, I’ll take a different route”, did a u-turn, and went on my way.
As it happens, they’d finished whatever they were doing, were leaving, and two minutes later, the same van pulled me over, questioning whether I had “run on sight of the police” and had anything to hide. Did I tell them to go fuck themselves? Did I ask them why they were always picking on the man? Did I bemoan how long it took them to get to me the one time I’ve called them, since I moved to Bristol? Did I tell them to go and find some real criminals? No. I answered their questions truthfully, they checked the tax and insurance was valid, and that the car was actually registered to me, and I went on my way. There’s really no need for aggression.
No News is..?
Given that level of persistence though, I’m surprised that neither of the above websites has been updated in months. I would have thought that it would help rally people to continue protesting outside it, but the most-recently-updated site hasn’t been updated since February. The one advertised in the current version of the large anti-Tesco mural on Stokes Croft (boycottesco) hasn’t been updated this year at all.
Compare the Market
http://notesco.wordpress.com includes a price comparison section within it, which shows how Tesco compares to independent local stores. While I can only admire the idea behind this, it is quite flawed. As when they started protesting, the Stokes Croft Tesco hadn’t been built yet, their price comparisons are for the Tesco Express in Bishopston. This is fine, I guess, although this store is 0.7miles away.
I would deem that Stokes Croft begins around the A and runs for maybe a mile further down Cheltenham Road (off the map). 0.7 miles isn’t that far really, but then these shops are small convenience stores – not full supermarkets. They’re priced higher than Tesco’s normal stores, and have less of a selection available. Nobody walks very far to get to one. If it required a car/bicycle to get there, you’d probably save your time/money and go somewhere else, with a better selection of products.
There are other chain-retailers in that area, so in the interests of fairness, let me show you that same map again, but with all the other small-stores-owned-by-supermarkets tagged into it.
In fact it’s weird that they chose to compare it to Bishopston – which has two Sainsbury’s Local stores, one Tesco Express store, two Co-op supermarkets and a range of independent cafes, bakeries, butchers, and greengrocers, all seemingly surviving together.
There was actually already a Tesco Express store, closer to Stokes Croft than the Bishopston branch.
Distance between A and B is 0.5 miles. It’s in the opposite direction to Bishopston and B has been open for several years. Why didn’t they do the price comparison with that one? It’s probably because they wouldn’t have anything else to compare it to. The one marked at B has no other shops around it really. It’s a self-contained Tesco at the bottom of a block of flats.
By comparing it to the Bishopston store (which is surrounded by other shops), they can use it to show how expensive it is compared to its local independents. And they’re right. Compared to one of the local greengrocers in Bishopston, the Tesco Express in Bishopston is expensive. So why haven’t they updated their comparison now, to compare the new Tesco Express – Stokes Croft with a greengrocers in Stokes Croft?
Is it because there isn’t any? I’ve had a good look and I can’t find any.
And why no price comparison for bread? Or milk? The reason I ask this, is because that’s pretty much all I buy in Tesco Express. Picture the scenario – it’s 10pm on a Friday night and you realise you’re out of milk. There’s nowhere to go for it, but petrol stations and Tesco Express. In that situation I’ll begrudgingly choose the Express. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than £10 in a Tesco Express store. It’s late/last-minute shopping, for those times on a Sunday when the larger stores, green grocers, and most of the independent stores are shut.
If we zoom out a little bit further:
The Tesco Metro at C is a considerably bigger store than either the Tesco Express mentioned on Marlborough Street, the one at Bishopston, or the one they’ve just built in Stokes Croft. And Cabot Circus is a £500m behemoth of a shopping centre. The distance between A (new Stokes Croft store) and C (the big one that was already there) is only 0.7 miles. Surely if people were choosing to shop in Tesco over all else, Stokes Croft would already be devoid of any shops at all. You would have to be a complete buffoon to do all your shopping in a Tesco Express – nobody is buying their main weekly shop there.
I say again – they’ve compared Tesco Express Bishopston to other local stores in Bishopston. These are not only stores which aren’t in Stokes Croft, but they’re stores which are actively thriving, despite several of these Tesco/Sainsburys mini-supermarkets. Bishopston has got more than one local bakers, and several greengrocers – all independent.
If anything, I’d say the Tesco Express/Sainsburys Local stores are unsustainable. They’re expensive, and they’re too close together. If people only buy bread and milk in there (which are always rumoured to be loss-leader products anyway), they’ll disappear of their own accord. But in the meantime, isn’t it better to have Tesco occupying an empty shop, than it remaining empty, or being used by squatters?
According to the BBC, there’s a meeting today between Tesco, the police and the council, regarding the Stokes Croft store, and whether to reopen it at all. I hope it reopens. If it doesn’t, what does that say about society? That if you challenge something legally and that doesn’t work – just resort to violence and trash the place? Don’t like the corporate culture of your mobile phone provider? Just burn down their offices. If you’ve had a disagreement with Primark over their manufacturing techniques, why not stand outside their store, shouting and intimidating potential customers. This isn’t the way society should work.