It’s a red letter day in Liverpool today. But, lest you get too excited, the letters in question are two metres tall and spell out T-E-S-C-O.
You’ll spot them at the new Tesco Extra store in the Dingle’s Park Road – once home to the defunct Mecca Bingo and now the site for Liverpool’s biggest ever Tesco: all 5369 square meters of it.
And so our love affair with Terry Leahy’s retail behemoth continues. It’s the single biggest investment in the area following the Toxteth Riots almost exactly 30 years ago. But at what cost to local business?
Trader and businessman, Mark Granby runs Arthur J Granby & Son, one of Liverpool’s longest established butchers. But you’ll not see his name on our city’s shopping streets any more.
After the death of his father 17 years ago, the traditional butchers firm went into receivership before Mark re-invested and refocused. Now operating out of Brunswick Business Park, Mark’s pragmatic about the shifting sands of the city’s retail fortunes.
For him, and his business, survival offered a stark choice: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
“We had to adapt to the climate,” he tells SevenStreets. “So we now supply to manufacturers who provide supermarket meals and soups. We’re part of the supply chain now. I think we’d struggle with a retail outfit.”
Mr Granby started in the meat business 34 years ago. As a boy, he used to help his dad run the trade counters and shops he successfully operated throughout Kensington and the south of the city. But, year on year, Mark saw his dad’s shops and counters closing down as the big boys increased their grip on our purses, and change the way we shopped for ever.
“There’s not much we can do to protect or preserve local business anymore,” Mark says. “People want value for money. Times are tough. You have to focus on value and embrace the changes. We’ve got a good local staff, supplying national markets. I don’t see chains like Tesco as a bad thing. It’s progress.”
Veteran fruit and veg man, Alan Bilsborough had 18 sites all over Liverpool over a period of 40 years. Now based at the bottom of Lark Lane, he runs a small stall which remains a firm favourite with locals.
“I try to keep prices below supermarket prices, and that means I make a smaller profit, but it’s the only way to stay in the game.”
So what of the new Tesco? When the £30million development was approved, there were the usual objections from local newsagents, pharmacists and mini-markets fearing the worst – and with good reason: when Tesco Express opened on Crosby Road, within six months, six local stores shut up shop for good.
Enter the ‘Tesco Regeneration Partnership’ – part of a deal Tesco had to strike before they were given the green light.
The package included promises of a £600,000 landscaping project, and a few hundred jobs for an area that’s suffered more than most. Of course, with Tesco, the vast majority of these jobs will be part-time.
And when it comes to promises, well, Tesco have gone back on their word before: their promise to restrict opening hours in their Allerton Road store (to give local businesses a fighting chance) lasted only fractionally longer than their on-the-vine tomatoes.
Despite this, Liverpool City Councilor, Alan Dean was in buoyant mood: “It’s very rewarding to see so many people who have gone from having no job – some for a considerable period of time – to making a commitment to improving their skills and becoming valuable employees with a much brighter future ahead of them.”
“This is a clear demonstration that regeneration is not just about investment in buildings, important though that is, but is also about enabling people to benefit from and contribute to the economic improvements in the area.”
And, commenting on the impact they’re likely to have on local traders, Matt Magee, corporate affairs manager at Tesco emphasised how they’ll be working with local traders to make sure they benefit from the increased footfall the store will bring to the area.
“It is a massive investment in a very deprived area of Liverpool and we expect wider knock on regeneration to occur as a result,” he said.
“The area around Toxteth/Dingle is devoid of significant foodstore provision, and has lacked investment for many years.
“We are building the store in a district centre. This means that our store will support the other businesses in that local centre as more people choose to shop on Park Road rather than driving elsewhere.”
Let’s hope he’s right. This area of town sorely needs investment, of that there is no doubt. Tesco might be an unlikely saviour – but with a pledge to support local businesses with new zebra crossings, new shop signs, shutters and lighting (in an estimated windfall of £15,000 per business) maybe every little helps.