I’ve commented a number of times in the lifespan of this blog about the wonderful place in which I live. Despite the best efforts of the Luftwaffe, and even more dangerously, the 50′s and 60′s town planners, Canterbury remains a beautiful, engaging and pleasant place to live.
Yes we have our problems, rough sleepers begging are a bigger problem than in most places in Kent, traffic is a bitch (especially since the introduction of the Westgate Towers trial, which hopefully will have the plug pulled tonight), we have more than our fair share of chuggers on the High Street, but all of these are a by-product of a vibrant, profitable shopping scene which is based in the centre of the town and has a high number of independent stores along with the ubiquitous national chains. The city is very much alive, and very pleasant it is too.
The area of the city I live in is just at the bottom of the main drag, outside the city walls, if that portion was still standing. As an aside we have a good portion of our old city wall still standing, and a walk along it where it overlooks one of the very pleasant gardens we have in the city is a real treat. Anyhow, my area of the city is like a little village, mainly because it was originally a little village. I’ve commented before on our valiant greengrocer, but we’ve also got a butcher, farmers’ market, chemist, four pubs, two newsagents, a pet shop, a printers, some restaurants/takeaways/chip shop, a barber and two hairdressers, a dentist, an off-licence, a bookies, a bank, dry cleaner, soft furnishing shop, hotel, a riverside garden, a baker, a mechanic, everything you could want. Indeed the high speed train to that there London also stops in our little village in the city. As it stands at the moment it would be possible to live and work in St. Dunstan’s and only have to leave to visit a doctor.
I may be guilty of painting a picture of Utopia, projecting my own deep affection for the place onto this, and I make no apologies for it. Like all bloggers I moan a great deal, but when I stop and consider how lucky I am to live where I do, it gives me a nice warm glow.
So, to the point. A few years ago a venerable old petrol station that was sat on one corner closed down. This was a bit of a pain in the arse, it was open 24 hours a day and the shop, whilst a little expensive, was useful. When it went, it was replaced by one of the payday loan/pawnbroker shops and an oriental grocery. They didn’t last too long and the site sat empty for a while, becoming a bit of an ugly derelict. Then the big wooden boards went up around it and they demolition crews moved in, pulling it down along with the old coach works that sat behind it.
Canterbury is a city with two universities, and it was announced that the building going up in its place would be student accommodation, except for the ground floor, which would be given over to retail. Locals looked nervously, wondering what would come into the premises, and then it was announced that it was going to be Sainsbury’s, a Sainsbury’s Local. Some people were up in arms about it. We didn’t need it, and it wasn’t desirable. There is a Sainsbury’s supermarket just over half a mile away down the road in Kingsmead, why did we want another one here? Of course this isn’t a supermarket, there’s no trolleys, it is little bigger than a convenience store, and it is slightly more expensive than the big one down the road, but why would they come and muscle in on our little village?
You see, there is a conditioned response that big business is evil, ruthless and greedy, the big supermarkets will not rest until the indies have been ground into the dirt. But it ain’t so.
It’s now been two months since the little Sainsbury’s opened. They’ve got a cash point, which saves walking up to the NatWest part time branch at the top of St. Dunstan’s, they’ve managed to get six parking bays in the station car park which are free for 20 minutes. The effect it has had on me is startling. You see, whilst I could go to get most of my stuff in the little shops on my doorstep if I wanted farty about stuff, bin bags, washing powder and washing up liquid, a multi-pack bag of crisps and the like, I’d have to go to the big Sainsbury’s, and whilst I was there I’d pick up the stuff I could get from the small shops. This morning I’ve walked out of my front door and gone to the greengrocers and bought some fags, milk, cornflakes and apples (my wonderful greengrocer has diversified, you can’t move in there now but it’s wonderful), I’ve been to the pet shop to get some dog biscuits, the baker for some bread rolls, the butcher for some sliced ham to put in them and some of his criminally good minted lamb burgers, and to Sainsbury’s for some washing up sponges and some ironing water (our water here is so hard it’ll break windows, filling the iron from the tap will leave it a furry mess in a week).
Previously I’d have had to go the big Sainsburys for the ironing water and washing up sponges, and my bread rolls, lunch, dinner, dog food, milk, fags, fruit and cereal would have all be bought there. So not only have I now got it yards from my front door, from local shops selling local produce at cheaper prices and better quality than the supermarket, but also saved money on petrol, saved the planet (give me strength), and, more importantly in my book, had the opportunity to catch up with the people who run these businesses, people with whom I now find myself on first name terms, who will ask after Mrs. Snowolf and the Snowolf herself. We discuss the council meeting about the traffic trial which is being held tonight, we discuss the fortunes of Kent County Cricket Club, if I’m 50p short they’ll let me off it, or at least let me bring it in next time, they ask what I think of this product, that line and so forth. It is so much nicer than ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’. I actually find myself smiling as I do my shopping, it is nice. It is pleasant, it isn’t a chore. I don’t do a weekly shop, I go out every day and do this. It’s saving me a bloody fortune because I’m not hoovering up the junk that is banged out as special offers. I’m losing weight, because I don’t see the two for one chocolate fingers.
I know I’m not the only one who has found this, because I find myself having conversations with the shop owners and other customers they have in there. There’s no rush, it brings it all back down to a personal level, and the independents I mention are all delighted, because they’ve found their takings increase as more people just stroll out rather than going down to the supermarket.
Ruining our little village? The arrival of Sainsbury’s Local has made it stronger, it’s pulled our our community together, and it is really quite wonderful.