So, another Tesco eh? Just what Liverpool needed. We mused on the likely effect of Tesco’s arrival in the Dingle on local shops last week.

But what’s it actually like? Well, predictably, it’s like an enormous version of every other Tesco you’ve ever been in; it’s actually the largest supermarket in Liverpool, covering nearly 6000 square metres and enough parking for nearly 600 cars.

When you get inside the Park Road Tesco it overwhelms with its size. It’s dizzying and baffling. Is it really as big as it looks? Where is the milk? Is that garden furniture? Exactly what can you not buy in here?

It’s tempting to compare the shop floor to the size of a football pitch, but you could certainly get dozens of badminton or squash courts in here, not to mention a great game of indoor cricket.

From Aigburth Vale, a good mile and a half away, the Park Road Tesco Extra can be glimpsed – its top floor windows sitting above Toxteth like an absurd, glowing toupe. The first time I saw it I shouted “What the fuck’s that?” in shock – half thinking that the aliens had finally landed.

The arrival of Tesco slap bang in the middle of the Dingle is sure to have a significant impact on the area, even if it’s not death-ray devastation. The area is already served by a sizeable Co-operative supermarket and a bustling, busy independent shop community. It’s hard to believe that all of these shops will survive the arrival of the largest Tesco in Liverpool.

However, what used to be here will not be missed by many. A massive, industrial-sized Mecca bingo hall with a Post Office that looked like something out of a John Carpenter film bolted onto the side.

Surrounding the bingo – once described by an elderly lady on Park Road I overheard as “a lovely little bingo” – was the desolation of concrete, ramps, steps, steel railings and abandoned flower beds that characterised 1980s retail developments. Broken glass and discarded shopping trolleys, a haven for gangs of youths. It really was a horrible place. Still, the Mecca provided a focal point for the community in the way that pubs no longer do, to the same extent at least. 100 years ago there was the Florrie for the local community; nowadays that role is taken by supermarkets.

But will the new Tesco be greeted by Dingle-ites? There’s a famed semi-mythical northern stereotype of tight-knit communities in industrial working class cities and towns that has all-but died out, but it’s certainly present in the Dingle. People know one another, the names of the shopkeepers, women enquire as to the health of families and friends of others on the bus. Of all the places in the city – perhaps the country – that might reject a hypermarket landing on their doorstep like a District 9 UFO, this is it.

But will they? On a short visit to the Park Road Tesco I did not receive that impression. The new supermarket is so vast, so all-encompassing, so bright that it seems to attract people like moths to a flame from miles around. On a Thursday night, quite late, there are families striding around as if on a night out, marvelling at the colour and symmetry of it all.

People genuinely seemed anesthetized by the sensory experience, the persuasion architecture of a building that’s subliminally influencing your actions. What’s that delicious smell wafting to me from the back of the store? I only needed milk, but there’s a great price on this flat-screen TV! Look at this row of bottles of pop – I must buy one! Without thinking about it I collected £40 worth of stuff I largely didn’t need.

Large Tesco stores like this deploy a kind of shock and awe tactic in the way they display their goods; they simply overwhelm with thousands of boxes of Frosties or tubes of Pringles or cans of Heinz. It appeals to the parts of our mind that like lists, order, neat lines. Tesco does, after all, offer degrees in retail management, which includes display management. There’s method in Marmite.

It’s common to hear the term Ballardian applied to nightmarish urban landscapes, but really Ballard was as much about the effects of these gleaming, artificial, brightly-lit edifices of society. JG would have loved this new Tesco: its enormous underground car-park; its overpowering use of colour, sound, architecture and display; its order and routine. There’s a sense that people are here to service this great building, rather than the other way around; acting out a comforting familiar ritual among fonts and colours and noises that they recognise.

And how many people there are. There are hundreds of people here as I glide around the aisles, marvelling at the scope of the offerings. Enormous buckets of muscle growth supplement; engine oil; garden furniture; bed sheets, 10kg bags of rice.

Here’s a kind of Irish fruit loaf I’ve never heard of; there are Eggs For Soldiers – donating cash to military charities for every egg sold; the rarely-spotted Roysters T-Bone steak flavour crisps. Rare brands, obscure products, deserted specialist aisles.

A family are passing by. “Dad, look!” shouts a young child, pointing at a display of pizzas as if it were Optimus Prime striding around the shop. A mother and daughter, clad in matching leopard-skin outfits and an inch of make-up, pass by on their way to the booze section. Did they dress up just to come to Tesco?

At the discounted section there’s what could be literally termed a feeding frenzy as people familiar with the rhythms of the supermarket descend at the same time as an employee with yellow-stickered goodies.

Looking around I’d guess there are several hundred people here – and many are clearly not from the Dingle. They have come in their people-carriers from Allerton and Aigburth in search of garden chairs and barbecue material. How much of their cash will they shower on the rest of Park Road?

I leave down an escalator that warns me when I’m approaching the end. A shop inside the Tesco is offering strawberry cream teas – and there are community displays. People buying and selling stuff; local shops within the building; a display on local suppliers Tesco uses in the north west. An automatic sliding door bears a spider-web of cracked glass already. In the car-park there are gangs of lads using the new area to indulge in some bike tricks. In small ways this is already, identifiably, a Toxteth Tesco.

I head over to the Co-op on Park Road, which features a post office and a couple of other independent outfits inside. It’s empty, perhaps a dozen people inside. Co-op radio is playing Fleet Foxes. In Tesco it was Rihanna.

“The week Tesco opened it was dead in here,” confides the lady on the till. “But it’s a lot better this week.”

I worry about this Co-op as I worry about the local shops, I’ve shopped here for years and often say hello to the girls on the tills, but apparently it’s OK.

“We’ve been told our jobs are safe – the post office signed a contract for eight years.” As I leave I realise mine is the only car in the car-park.

The Co-op feels like it has slotted in with the area. It might as well be The Dingle Co-op; everyone knows one another and staff conduct loud conversations with one another across tills. I like that. I wonder if Tesco will ever get like this; whether it will learn to adapt to the area and reflect its unique idiom; work with the community or act in isolation.

Tesco’s supporters point to the regeneration potential of bringing more people to the area, but the idea that people will come to this Tesco and then pop down the road to Soup Herb sandwiches or That Bloomin’ Flower Shop is clearly absurd. If you want a sarnie or a bouquet of flowers you’ll buy them in Tesco if you’re already in Tesco, especially if your car is parked downstairs.

Another fallacy trotted out in support of Tesco’s arrival in Toxteth was that shops on Park Road, which is a genuinely thriving shopping area in its own right, would adapt to sell things that Tesco doesn’t. Fat chance. Walking around this Mecca to capitalism it’s clear that you could do a week’s shop here and cut any further visits to B&Q, the garden centre, Holland & Barrett, Top Man, the local garage, grocer, butcher, fishmonger and a dozen other types of shop. This Tesco sells it all.

The improved access by roads simply serve to improve access to Tesco. Arguably the introduction of a set of lights has snarled up traffic even more if you’re driving up or down Park Road. We’ll see plenty of increased footfall alright – straight into Tesco and straight out again.

So where does this leave us? Well, Tesco have sourced half the new 500 full- and part-time jobs form the local community’s long-term unemployed and the former Mecca site characterised an area of Liverpool left to fend for itself for 30 years; its improvement can’t be a bad thing in itself.

We’ll see in time what the real effects are. For now the very existence of the huge supermarket in the middle of one of Liverpool’s true working-class areas gives me enough to chew on. Inevitably, while I dislike the idea of another supermarket behemoth hoovering up trade and cash and sending it back to head office or to foreign wholesalers instead of local farms, dairies and goods suppliers, the logic of Tesco cannot be ignored.

It offers us an easier, more convenient, generally cheaper life – and we live in an age where convenience is king, even though we might decry the homogenisation of retail and food. Which one of us hasn’t slipped into a Tesco or Macdonalds or Greggs from time to time when it’s simply easier to do so?

That’s the crux of the success of these places and remains the only possible way to stop them. If you don’t like them, don’t go to them. That’s as much – and as little – as can be done in a market that drives consumption and growth at every turn. We create the demand; we get the shops we deserve.

On the way out of the Tesco I let rip with an almighty sneeze. A girl stacking a shelf nearby beams a smile and essays a friendly ‘bless you’. She looks happy, despite the fact she’s stacking shelves with pork scratchings. Perhaps she lives in the Holy Land nearby and had struggled to find a job nearby. Perhaps she’s really happy that this store has opened; providing a stable job at a difficult time.

It’s an important reminder, too, that places like this are made up of individuals, people just like us. While the arrival of a square kilometre of bricks and glass, cheap meat and Corn Flakes is easy to characterise as A Bad Thing, it’s equally easy to forget that there are hundreds of people from the Dingle working here. These hundreds of people working here are, to all intents and purpose, the Park Road Tesco.

How the local community reacts to the new Tesco; and how it reacts to them will define the impact the arrival of this alien construction has on the Dingle – and tell us everything we need to know about these mega-shops and our relationship with them.

Tesco Park Road

  • chris carney

    I liked it when I spotted some Cabernet Sauvignon in the fridge and told a manager woman who replied ‘you can do that’.

  • Mark

    I don’t think the concept of large supermarkets increasing footfall in an area is absurd. My two local supermarkets are ASDA near Breck Road and Tesco in Old Swan. Both have been there for about 10 years now, and both areas have probably increased as shopping destinations, especially Old Swan, with plenty of independent butchers, greengrocers, flower shops etc.
    At the time, people claimed Old Swan would be a ghost town in 2 years, but clearly not. Are there any Liverpool supermarkets that have decimated local independents to a wholesale degree in local shopping areas?

    Also –
    “Co-op radio is playing Fleet Foxes. In Tesco it was Rihanna.”

    Is this meant to be poignant? awful.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    No of course it’s not ‘supposed to be poignant’ it’s supposed to be an observation in a colour piece.

    As for observation you can observe a dozen reports into the effect a huge supermarket has on small independent shops, like you can observe the effect on local shops on Lark Lane or you can observe the article mentioned in the first paragraph on how local shops view the arrival of the Park Road Tesco.

    As for footfall the Park Road Tesco is set up in such a way that it will indeed increase footfall – straight to Tesco and straight out again. The store is so huge and all-encompassing there’s absolutely no reason to visit any other stores in the area. 

    Tesxo’s arrival may bring jobs and investment, but there’s a well-recognised pattern to the arrival of a large superstore among small shops that doesn’t end with loads of small business owners clapping their hands in applause. 

  • KT

    A nice piece with a bit of considerd analysis rather than the usual knee-jerk ‘Tesco is the antichrist’ crap. I live in the area, and it’s definitely a double-edged sword. I wonder how things like the local fruit and veg shop will cope, but, despite the fact there are some good shops on Park Road, to describe things as thriving is going a bit too far. Many of the local shops already closed years ago. Also, the Co-Op, however friendly the staff are, is poorly stocked and over-priced. Many local people drive out of the area to shop and now they won’t have to.

    I went to a debate about it a few years ago. There was a clear division between the artsy/hippyish/middle-class residents around Princes Park and the more working-class/locally-born residents from round Dingle. The former was very much ‘I wish we had an organic wholefood locally sourced co-operative’ while the latter, and one guy summed it up succinctly, were more ‘we’re not interested in that, we want food and jobs’. I’d find it hard to argue with that.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    It’s certainly important to consider, foremost, what the people directly affected by developments like this will make of it. One of the main problems a new Tesco in an area like this brings is that it tends to reduce competition, the very existence of which is keeping prices low. Without competition there’s no pressure on those prices anymore.

    I think Oark Road could be said to be thriving in relation to similar high streets; while the co-op served any remaining needs when I lived there. One of Tesco’s main pillars of its application for the Dingle store was that the area is poorly served in terms of large retail outlets, a claim I find unfathomable. It’s certainly well-served now, but that’s what worries me. It’s a genuine one-stop shop that removes the need for shoppers to venture anywhere else.

  • JP

    For a shop of its size it actually doesn’t stock a great deal and there’s a huge amount of unused space. (If you want to see a behemoth of a Tesco, go to Birkenhead’s Bidston Moss Extra store. A self-confessed Tesc-xpert, I made a shamefilled birthday trip there one year.) As in your picture there are indeed shelves laden with item upon item of identical products, but the emphasis is on identical. They have a limited range of organic products (compared to Mather Avenue’s branch). Higher end products such as Gü are few (2 varieties only), the range of yoghurt, hummus and other dairy-free products as well as fresh bread/morning goods is quite small.

    It may be due to ordering teething troubles but both times I have been (second day of opening and this Saturday gone) there were also large gaps in various fresh food sections.

    There is what seems a good (greater than usual) range of ‘world foods’ which I assume is linked to their research into the makeup of the local (immigrant rather than city-born) population. It’s the only mainstream supermarket I’ve seen with such a selection of halal meat, for example. It seems that they are indeed catering to the desire for “food and jobs” as put forward by KT above, rather than for what has been cited as more ‘middle class’ wants. This meets a need obviously, but to digress into a short ethical rant, Tesco has such a stranglehold on life now, why shouldn’t they be leading by example by offering products which expand peoples horizons in a healthy way rather than sticking to the same old diet? The section which isn’t as readily available at other Tescos, the television wall and other non-edible goods continues this trend: cheap, unethically-produced, disposable ‘buy me’ products: “ooh I’ll need one of those one day” as my partner’s eyes alight on a Kindle.

    And yes, I could make the choice to avoid shopping in Tesco, but their prices for the things that my “artsy/hippyish/middle-class” (no slight intended or taken) Garston dwelling self wants (organic fresh foods and ‘luxury’ treats mostly) are sometimes much lower than for similar products from ethical companies. And of course therein lies the reason for their dominance of working and middle class shopping habits.

    So my point? This new branch may be catering to the wants, if not needs, of the local populace (although as for catering for the locals – are they really, with hundreds upon hundreds of car parking spaces?) but it does not meet my needs or wants…I only wish Garston’s (over-priced but at least its profits don’t go the same way Tesco’s do) Co-operative did.

    …Mather Ave here I come.

    And as for that 10kg bag of rice? When it falls on a small child from the head-height shelf on which it is ill-balanced you will be able to report that they were warned about it.

  • http://web.me.com/aspiretrust/Main_SIte/Welcome.html NIck Owen

    As the Borg once said, all resistance is futile…. but in the meantime we can at least have a good kick.

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.449018212027.235381.686222027

  • Nick

    Is it Toxteth or Dingle? Or both?

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    Take your pick.

  • Nick

    I only dispute your placing of this new supermarket, not your reasoning as to how it might affect those two areas. Although perhaps you might see how your error in the first matter might, in some small way, introduce some doubt as to the validity of the second.

    For the record, the address is Toxteth. http://goo.gl/maps/DR5N

    Personally I wonder not about the shops on Park Road but those on Windsor and Mill St. That said, there has been a lot of new building south of Upper Warwick St. Perhaps – if the same happens on the river side of Park Road – a swell in population will keep these shops, as well as Tesco, buoyant.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    In all honesty, no I don’t think the geographical issue has a bearing on the wider one concerning Tesco. I lived in the Holy Land for a while and found no consensus among people who live there whether it’s the Dingle or whether it’s Toxteth, which is why I used both in the article.

    Certainly Mill Street particularly is probably even worse off in face of the new Tesco Extra as the argument – which I think weak anyway – that the area will benefit from extra footfall is even less likely here.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    JPs point about the apparent choice on offer at Tesco is a valid one – and i can vouch for that at the Bidston store. The vastness of these complexes induce some kind of semi autonomous, trance-like shopping state. You tend to just spontaneously fill your trolley with whatever catches your eye, a general approximation of what you need. Try shopping for something specific, though: something you really need, and more times than I’d have guessed, Tesco has left me wanting.

  • Northers

    I went to “Tesco Dingle” for the first time yesterday: Impasse at the checkout when the woman examined my butternut squash and, searching vainly for a price, said ‘is that an exotic fruit?’

  • Nick

    The geographical doesn’t have a bearing on the wider issue, you’re right. What I meant was, I found it slightly harder to take you seriously as it appeared you were being inconsistent.

    There might be no consensus among the residents about what starts where, perhaps due to historical boundary changes. But the modern boundaries are quite clear, and I think your duty is to accuracy.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    Whereas your duty is to cavillery? If I were writing a report or academic tract on the subject then maybe it would be important. As it’s a colour piece and the area is recognised by many as Toxteth and many as the Dingle I really don’t see why it’s something to get worked up about.

    And, FWIW:

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=tesco%2C+dingle#sclient=psy&hl=en&source=hp&q=tesco%2C+dingle%2C+liverpool&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=612d70e118dcfff0&biw=1280&bih=899

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=tesco%2C+dingle#sclient=psy&hl=en&source=hp&q=tesco%2C+toxteth%2C+liverpool&aq=f&aqi=g-b1&aql=&oq=&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=612d70e118dcfff0&biw=1280&bih=899

    I don’t claim, that one is correct and the other incorrect – just a recognition that the colloquial overtakes the formal at some point in time.

  • http://- Ben

    Robin – a great article of the type which seven streets excels at.

    I haven’t been and seen the store myself yet but I feel like the article itself and most importantly the comments generated in debate have done a very good job of covering the multitude of issues that its construction brings up.

    The Mecca bingo was a horrendous shed that has been long overdue in being flattened. Worth noting is the sites’ proximity to the job centre on high park street : coming out after ineffectual job searches in there to see pissheads hanging round the knackered post office was particularly dispirting. I appreciate the prospect of working in tesco is for many, equally dispiriting, but at least the building is NEW and shows that there is investment going on in the area.

    Does anyone know what has happened to the car boot sale / market that used to be on the mecca car park regularly?

    Some really interesting points being raised in the comments here – feels like an actual platform for reasonable discussion, which is nice!

  • Dermot

    If you want to buy local rather than from supermarkets, you can get cheap, good quality fruit and veg from the big middle eastern (?) shop at the bottom end of Lodge Lane. You can buy boxes of fruit and veg at wholesale prices. The (halal ) meat is great value too! I’m not connected to the shop by the way!

  • Angela

    I work on Customer Services in the Park Road Tesco. I find some of the comments quite snooty. What I have observed in the 12 months that I have worked there is that it is already a sort of community meeting place. I often see people chatting to people that they know, neighbours, friends, family! At customer services, we know what the customers are unhappy with but we also get lots of positive comments. A lot of local people are ‘made up’ that it’s there. I was one of the long term unemployed people that Tesco took on and I really enjoy working there. The staff at Tesco Park Road are glad to be in employment in times of tough economic upheaval, and most of us do our best to meet the needs of the customer. We can’t however be held responsible for decisions made by senior management. So don’t shoot the messenger!

  • J

    Cracked glass and kids on bikes..oohhh must be Toxteth..

    Where are you from; and you think this is indicitive of Toxteth??

    I cant stand this media view of the area. This kind of social observation could be made practically worldwide. But the lazy writer chooses to use the slanderous term to descibe such a common place theme.

    Overall an amateur piece, relying on stereotypes to paint a predictive picture. You may as well stayed at home and written it…. In fact you probably did…

  • J

    *predictable picture* its late!

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    Personally I can’t stand lazy insults – ‘I don’t agree with what you’ve written so it’s rubbish’ – or the even more unpleasant ‘you’re an outsider’ routine. Feel free to dislike an article or disagree with the points therein; simply throwing out generic abuse is rather boring.

    If you look at the photos it’s fairly clear that I went there. As for knowing the area, I lived in the Holy Land for some time. I’ve shopped in the Co-op on Park Road for years. I know the area – warts and all – pretty well and know an area in need of attention and investment.

    I don’t really see what you object to as far as pointing out that you can see kids on bikes in Toxteth. Beyond that the cracked glass is a link back to what was there before the trsco – an absolute bombsite.

    I like Toxteth very much and know it well. That doesn’t mean I’m blind to its problems. Nor should anyone be.

  • Mark

    So, a year on from the article and what has the effect been on the area? How about a follow up article?

  • Nose bleed

    Yet another poorly written piece of so called online journalism.No substance and nothing investigative.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David Lloyd

    I’m not sure we were supposed to be investigating anything? Is every piece of writing supposed to read like an episode of Watchdog?

  • Steve Arpent

    Some interesting points but why so patronising about the working class?

    “A mother and daughter, clad in matching leopard-skin outfits
    and an inch of make-up, pass by on their way to the booze section. Did they
    dress up just to come to Tesco?”

    “A girl stacking a shelf nearby beams a smile and essays a
    friendly ‘bless you’. She looks happy, despite the fact she’s stacking shelves
    with pork scratchings. Perhaps she lives in the Holy Land nearby and had
    struggled to find a job nearby”.

    Archetypal…