So it has finally come to pass that despite years of resistance from local residents and traders, one of the big supermarkets have found a foothold in Portobello.
I attended the public meeting held last night on the 5th of September and listened carefully to the concerns.
Legally speaking there does not seem to be much to be done. The premise that Sainbury’s are taking over, the Woodwares Hardware store, has been signed over on a fifteen year lease and since it is already a retail property, there is no change of status involved as far as planning permission is concerned.
Local traders are right to be worried about the competition. It was acknowledged at the meeting though that some local residents will welcome the arrival of Sainsbury’s as it will also supply competition to the Co-Op Scotmid store.
Although there were a few ideas floated at the meeting, I suspect that most of them will prove to be little more than irritations to the major supermarket chain. That does not mean that they should not proceed of course; all is fair in love, war and high-street retailing.
To illustrate this last point, I am reminded of a friend’s experiences from Norfolk, although in this case the independent store owner set up after the establishment of a Tesco supermarket in the village. The independent trader had set up a small bakery and delicatessen, partly to avoid direct competition with the neighbouring goliath who did not have a deli counter. Within a few months that situation had changed, with the store manager setting up such a counter in a direct effort to drive the new shop out of business.
Fortunately for the independent, the specialist pies that were being produced were of such high quality that they won awards. That quality also meant that the store retained the loyalty of its customers. Tesco’s was forced to admit defeat upon that occasion.
Assuming that the new supermarket will arrive in Portobello, the independent stores will be in for a very hard time. In terms of grocery stables, a major player will win on most occasions. With limited space available to Sainsbury’s though, they cannot be all things to all people. It is going to take flexibility and the support of local people to survive.