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EVERY LITTLE ONE HELPS

13-03-2010

Dave Woodhall wonders whether we might be seeing a new spirit of co-operation in the high street. Or rather, in the out of town retail park.

I read this week that a new Sainsbury’s opening in Wombourne has set up a website to advertise local businesses. This might seem a bit odd, the nasty corporate giant doing its bit to help the competition.

Then I read a bit deeper – two years ago the original application to build a supermarket was rejected because of the detrimental effect it might have on the local economy. A new application came complete with this extra bit of cyber-community relations. No objections this time.

It would be nice to think that Sainsbury’s are pioneering a new era of co-operation in which the big guys help their little neighbours. After all, the takings of all the other shops in Wombourne put together wouldn’t make much of a dent in the profits of a company whose turnover last year was £20.4 billon, with a pre-tax profit of £483 million.

But you can’t help wondering whether they would have bothered with this website if they didn’t have to. If that’s the case, well done South Staffordshire council for doing your bit to help local businesses.

I don’t know to what extent large supermarkets harm other traders. Looking at the traditional retail centres of the Black Country, for example, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that towns like Great Bridge, where there’s an Asda the size of a small Middle European country, and Oldbury, home of what I still call Sava Centre, are doing badly.

But I was also in Ludlow yesterday and the arrival of Tesco and Aldi doesn’t seem to have harmed the gastronomic capital of England. Maybe that’s the key to economic success; enough decent small businesses will always be able to outnumber the giants.

If there were a couple of good food shops in Ludlow, people would probably travel from all over Ludlow and the surrounding villages to shop in the town. As there’s more like a couple of dozen shops, the catchment area is most of central England and Wales.

It’s difficult for independent shops to survive. And maybe Sainsbury’s really are genuine in their desire to help the community. If they are they should be encouraged, as should their competitors. After all, if Ludlow’s anything to go by, the more the merrier.

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