Becoming Tescoville?

July 21, 2013

I have commented on more than one occasion on how public houses are converted into ‘local’ or ‘Metro’ branches of the big supermarkets.

I also comented on the failure of the ‘Golden Fleece’ as a public house, how it was thought that it would become a local Tesco.

That work is now well underway. But within two miles, an old car showroom is also being converted into another local Tesco.

So in this town, there are: Two big Tesco stores, in the town centre and by a motorway junction, and now at least four ‘local’ Tescos. A big Sainsbury’s. There is a ‘local’ branch in a nearby village – on the site of an old pub which it demolished, as I recorded – but to get to that village by whatever route, you travel through countryside. That branch appears to have forced the closure of the established Budgens within a stone’s throw.

Back to the main town, a biggish Morrisons. A large Asda by the other motorway junction, an area that is becoming a town-on-the-hill, but somewhat separate from the rest of the town. A load of independant or small chain small supermarkets, often being forced out of business. Some of them are terrible (I have personal experience), lacking stock, service, and possibly are only really servicing a particular segment of the local population in the area – although I fail to see how they can even manage that.

I don’t mind that there are one or more ‘local’ style supermarket brnaches, but why are they all Tesco?

This ever greater dominance of Tescos in the town remindes me of the ‘Shoe Event Horizon’ in the Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s series – an economy where it becomes economically impossible to open anything but a shoe shop. Here, it appears to be impossible to open a ‘local’ supermarket anything other than Tesco’s.

I hear that Waitrose decided against opening a branch in the town, despite having significant present in the area. There is an Aldi or Lidl somewhere hidden away, but it cannot be a large branch – is the established dominance of Tesco showing?

As a brief note on Public Houses, the George V has had yet another round of advertising for a new ‘mine host’; others also have such advert up outside. Many public houses are now being converted to housing, other commercial premises (other than the supermarkets I have gone on about).

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It has been some time since I made any report on anything at all – it has been a busy time. But it has not escaped my notice that there have been more changes regarding pubs.

The ‘Geroge V’ seems to be staggering on, the ‘Let this pub’ sign appearing and disappearing. The ‘Golden Fleece’ seems to have closed down again, and a ‘To Let’ sign has reappeared, and all the theme night posters disappeared. But these pubs are still pubs, at least for now.

Now to the buildings that have changed. Two of those mentioned before are now ‘Sainsbury’s Local’ – The ‘Green Man’, and the ‘Duke of Wellington’. The former is an all new building, demolishing an historic building in the process, the latter refitted into the existing (1930s (?)) building. Another building being refitted is ‘The Warren’ (another 1930s building?), becoming a local Tesco’s, but that refit is still going on – as of today, it looks almost ready to receive stock.

The transformation of the ‘Duke of Wellington’ completed as ‘Sainsbury’s Local’ supermarket

As I drive around on business or simply on my necessary journeys, there are just so many pubs that are not open now when formerly they would have been; are they closed – open on weekends only? Closed – for business? Closed – to be sold for other purposes?

In my opinion, the traditional pub is within a few years of extinction. There was a radio programme this week that reported that in some areas of the UK it was uneconomic to open an ‘Off Licence’ (a shop selling alcohol for consumption ‘off the premises’) due to illegal imports of cheap lager and spirits – or just simply illegal manufacture in the UK. If Off Licenceses are uneconomic because of this illegal trade, no wonder public houses with their much higher overheads are closing down.

If such news makes it to radio programmes, it clearly is well advanced.

The illegal trade is only going to increase as the UK duty rate on alcohol is far higher than that across the channel, meaning that it is economic to go to France, fill a van with lager, and drive back (if you can do so evading customs) and sell it cheaper than the UK price. So doing it on an industrial scale clearly is highly profitable for the illegal trade. And the government needs revenue so much it’s hardly likely to cut the rate of duty, even if it were not afraid of the consequences of freely available cheap booze on the English.

It was that fear, during the 1914-18 war, that caused the introduction of so many of the restrictions of opening hours etc for the pub trade. The recent loosening of these restrictions – in a vain attempt to create a ‘cafe society’ – is also too late, and ineffective with the high rates of duty to contend with.

Although I updated the previous blog on this subject on the 5th March, there has been a lot more to note, even in the few examples that I discussed.

The ‘Duke of Wellington’ is boarded up, and is already looking very sad for itself. Meanwhile, the pub at the other end of the road, which I had a photo of (I didn’t name – ‘The Warren’) has now been surrounded by barriers and has the general air of about to be demolished.

The ‘Green Man’ had been demolished, and building work started – at least some ironwork has been put up on the site, but progress is surprisingly slow. I have no inside knowledge on this (rather late to try and save the pub) but I noticed a banner one morning: “The Green Man 1755 – 2012. R.I.P.”. [Rest in Peace].

While pubs such as ‘George V’ and ‘Golden Fleece’ still have signs out trying to lull the gullible to take them on, some pubs seem to have got new tenants in – at least, they are still trading, and the signs have gone. Although I noticed the latest attempt of Mine Host of the Golden Fleece has scrapped his latest attempt to keep the place afloat, if scratching out the (remarkably cheap) breakfast offer on the outside noticeboard is anything to go by.

I had a long chat with a woman I know who ran a pub for years. It seems that those who are managers, paid by the pubco, do fairly well, as they are, well, just paid employees. Pubs with a manager in are likely to survive, as the pubco is forking out cash in the form of the manager’s wages, so must think it is worth keeping them going. Pubs with a tied tenant (aka The Landlord, but I don’t use the term here because of the confusion) are the ones that cause grief.

Maybe some of the pubs where the signs have gone are now run by managers (for now, at least).

On the way home, I popped into Oddbins this evening to get a bottle of wine. It was empty – of wine, that is. Very difficult to find any cheap (by which I mean less than £7!) bottle of red wine. I was not considering white on a night such as this. A week of snowbanks, blizzards (subjective), thaws just enough to form black ice, and this is London, not out in the sticks!

I only hope that Waitrose are able to restock their Beaconsfield branch before Sunday, as I have to get mother’s next week’s food there. (And mine, but I can be more flexible) This means getting use by dates over a week in advance (as she misses eating them some days, so have to build in some spare). Last week was difficult enough, and in one case had to get two small dishes to be cooked together; unsurprisingly, mother only cooked and ate one of the two (several days early, just to make matters more alkward).

If a care worker finds the meal, but the BB date as expired, they are instructed to bin the meal, hence why I have to get these things so far in advance. If a cw is not going to turn up in good time, I have to do the job by phone. That is trying.

Bank of England’s 1% rate

February 5, 2009

I have a major dilemma.

I can pay off my mortgage with the then Abbey National today, or for the last couple of weeks, due to various payments on the companies restructuring.

But, it is a tracker mortgage at 0.6% above base rate (so will move to 1.6%). Given that it is almost 19 years into the mortgage, the change in bank rate results in a barely a generous round in a pub’s worth of change in my monthly payments.

Now with mother’s illness, she may soon have to go into a home, self-financed (but preferably via the council, as that is a lot cheaper for the same quality). However, parents home is my last chance to get a house with garden, so I need to manoeuver matters as much as I can do ensure this. My brother understands, and, like me, does not assume an inheritance (due to the government’s means-testing rules), but if I can buy him out he will be happy.

Normally one should pay off debts as fast as possible. But, as the interest on my mortgage is now so low (but not the lowest), and a need I may have for a large cash injection to buy out everyone else, I should save as hard as I can. I now regret a £5000 mortgage repayment last November, but I can now, calling on all resources, raise £37k from savings now, which is a start towards the estimated £160k price on mother’s house – without selling my flat, which I need for work.. House is in a bad way. But to save the house from being sold to cover home costs is now my principle aim. Even if it’s a lower-middle-class semi-detached…it’s my last chance for a garden…and it is where the greenhouse, orchard and father’s shed are…

But, as Jeremy Hardy says, I plan to be a burden on the state in my old age, having seen how money was vacuumed from my late father’s estate, and how much I have to fight the same from my mother’s.

Paper Passions. RIP

February 5, 2009

The Richmond shopfront in better times.

The Richmond shopfront in better times. Picture from their website

I reported on January 19th almost in passing that the shop “Paper Passions” had closed down. At some point soon this internet link will fail, but until then…It’s coming up to the first time I will miss this shop. It was a source of hand made cards, which I had used for everything from my brother’s wedding, anniversaries, birthdays, usually from local small companies.

That was not the only sort of thing I purchased from it. Christmas tree decorations, every year a different collection; the occasional notepad, plain paper book or similar; this xmas, a set of 20 paste-in book plates, stating “This book was stolen from…” which I gave to my brother (a fun present)(*).

Last Saturday it was clear the stock was being removed from the shop, and a note on the door was clearly aimed at some supplier coming to collect some stock as “retention of title”. (**)

(*). Not wishing to boast, but while I was at [a redbrick] University, I won a University Scholarship, and a friend of mine a Prize. The prize was worth – oh, £20? – but was to buy a book; and a book plate showing that the book was the prize of the Prize was provided. My scholarship was £100 (even in those days, not that much), but I had absolutely nothing to show I had won it. I’m not sure there was even a letter with the cheque. Apparently it did get published, in the relivent year’s Congragation publication, which I did not receive as I was not graduating that year!

(**)”Retention of Title”. Matters got so bad with one customer that I pulled this on them; however, they paid up (they were starved of cash for a long time), and indeed we’ve just received another significant order from them.

However, the same trick was one of the foundations of my (meaning our, but I’m the senior member) company. My colleague and I worked for a company that was clearly going down, just as a batch of assembled electronic units was delivered. Clearly the sub-contractor was not going to be paid, so, once it was clear the company was going to be liquidated, we contacted the sub-contractor and asked them to pull the “Retention of title” trick; for we were prepared to buy them for the going price. They did; it was quite funny being around while that farce was played out, for the company could not understand why these items were being pulled back – “what use do you have for them?” – was the wail.

We were also at the other end of the Retention of title trick about the same time. We had made an offer for various parts to the liquidator, which was accepted, and we carted off the stuff. Then another supplier came around, to claim back parts unpaid for. I learnt that one of the items unpaid for was one of the items we had purchased from the liquidator. What suprised me was that they could not take an identical item, because, from it’s serial number, it was identified as being paid for, whereas the unit we had, from it’s serial number, could be identified as not. But possession is nine tenths of the law…and that part eventually became part of another arguement, from which we no longer use it…