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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Yet more pub closures

May 11, 2013

I know it’s been a long time since I last reported. A horrible winter that affected me badly. However, I can report more on pubs mentioned before.

To start with one that I have mentioned a few times before. The Golden Fleece still claims to be “To Let”, but it has been gutted, and all the signs have been removed. Strong rumour, reported in the local press is that it will become a Tesco Local, despite national press claims that they will not be developing many sites due to current trading conditions. Personally, I think Tescos already dominate in the town, why not, say, Sainsburys?

But for a re-use of this building, it is a good idea to become a Supermarket-lite. It’s a large building, with large car-park and good access to the car park. More importantly, it’s surrounded by houses and housing estates, yet no other shop for a least a mile, so if ever there was a good place for such a supermarket-lite, this would be one. All to many other times – the ex-Green Man, for example – they are established within a short walking distance of an existing supermarket, be it of the smaller national chains such as Spar, Budgens or Co-op, or indeed one-off locally owned.

Next, I mentioned in the case of the Golden Fleece, a nearby pub, the Terriers. Well, after that relatively recent refit, and another pparent change of ownership, this has now closed. I’m told it will become a Vet’s practice.

Also mentioned at that time were The Dolphin and The Wanderer. These two are well separated, and apparently are still surviving, even if only open some of the time.

I mentioned some time ago that the George V was looking for a new tenant. Well, the signs for yet another new tenant are up again. Promising a refit as part of the deal, I note, and apparently a different pubco (or at least, a different trading name).

There are others that I notice as I drive around, but often I’ve not noticed their “decline”, so I won’t mention here today.

It was after dark when I passed the ‘Golden Fleece’ today, and there has been a significant change. For the past couple of months there have been a car or two in the car park, but it clearly was closed. Maybe there was a caretaker in residence.

But this evening (and as the clocks went back last weekend, it was now dark, hence the poor photos), the place had been boarded up in the modern manner, namely sheet metal over all the windows on the ground floor. Why they did not do the upper floors, which are vunerable to the stone throwers, I don’t know.

Boarded up – modern style. It doesn’t look good for the ‘Golden Fleece’.

So it is clear that the freeholder (no doubt a ‘Pubco’) of this pub has no hope of a new tenant of the place in the near future, even though the ‘To Let’ sign remains (I like the comment that the new tenant requires capital prominant on the sign – yes, wouldn’t they like to take that as soon as possible).

The pub sign, with the ‘To Let’ sign in the background. No point in using the Camera’s flash for these photos…

The next nearest pub is about half a mile away (yet in other areas there are still pubs literally next-door-neighbours that both survive), and while it is not in an ideal location, it clearly had a hinterland to survive until now.

I believe that within a mile of this location there are only three surviving pubs – The Dolphin, The Wanderer and The Terriers (although this may be beyond the mile). The Dolphin is moving into Gastropub territory, but as a large building, it has the room. The other two are still in the more traditional pub mould still.

Two more demolished pubs.

October 18, 2012

I was caught in bad traffic in London this evening, so went a long way out of my way to Greenford, a western suburb of the conurbation, but somewhere I occasionally passed through. There I found an old pub in the last stages of demolition. This photo was very hurriedly taken – the traffic lights had just turned Green – and is not distinct, but it may prove to be one of the very last photos of this pub. It shows a few bare walls (no roof, some walls missing). My first reaction was that there had been a fire there, causing it to close down, but a subseqent search of the internet did not reveal any reference to a fire, but who knows?

This poor photo (sorry) may be the last of the Red Lion, Greenford Broadway. Only some bare brick walls still standing, no roof.

There were two ‘Red Lion’ pubs in Greenford, both on the same road, as it happens, this was the more easterly one. Newspaper reports say it closed in August, but the internet still shows current websites saying that this ‘John Barras’ pub (trading name of the ‘Spirit Pub Company’, no doubt a pubco) is still a good place to go of an evening for “restaurant” food and drink.

The sign (not readable here) suggests it is being converted to some kind of residential property (primarily, I’d think).

Another pub that I watched close, be boarded up and demolished was the ‘Crooked Billet’ near Staines, SW of London, on the A30 Great South West Road. I drove past this pub (and now drive past the site) on a very regular basis. In this case, the pub has been such a local landmark that the roundabout next to the site is known as the Crooked Billet Roundabout.

Well, the pub had eccentric architecture, of recent provinance, no doubt to emphasise on the name, but was demolished recently. In this case, once the place was boarded up, there were fires – arson attacks? – which no doubt sealed the fate of the building as a pub, and probably the building itself.
Sometimes I wonder about arson attacks on buildings – Brighton West Pier is a prime example, what was there left to burn on the pier that had already been alight so many times before?

This naming of road junctions after local landmarks is common, but increasingly anacronistic, as the landmarks (pubs, other buildings) disappear. Gillette corner is named after the iconic building of the area, but Gillette have moved out, making the name rather anacronistic, although the building (with the name above the entrance) still survives. Now that the Crooked Billet pub has entirely gone, how long will the name survive just because of the road junction named after it?

I was talking to a South African today, and she commented that a friend of hers, visiting and staying at hers, had wondered that so many pubs were now supermarkets, compared to the last visit.

Comments about Blogs

October 14, 2012

Firstly, there has been some interest in my comments about Public Houses, so I have added a new category and edited all the previous entries so that they can all be located.

I know that I have not blogged much this year, it has been busy, but I have noticed that quite a number of blogs – on wordpress and others – have also had a long hiatus in entries. Even some of the most frequent bloggers have almost stopped – there was one with one entry in three months (recognising that they were taking a break), another with no entries in the past six months.

I know it is coincidence, but it is odd that so many blogs have not been updated for so long. My blog has often had a hiatus due to work or personal circumstances, I certainly cannot claim to be a regular blogger.

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.

I find myself in an odd position here.  Banging on about a subject, yet I’ve not actually been in a Public House (‘pub’) for…I forget.  Oh, no, I remember, I said once before, 2010, on the day of the funeral of my Aunt.

Anyway, I noticed yesterday, driving past the building that was once ‘The Warren’ that notices are up on the temporary wooden partition that now surrounds all building works in the UK – quite why (law?  good practice?) I don’t know.  Anyway, the signs show that the building is to become a ‘Tesco Metro’, a rival company (albeit larger) than the one (Sainsbury’s) working on the (smaller building) ‘Duke of Wellington’ at the other end of the road.

Other Public Houses I have kept my eye on appear to have got new tenants; ‘George V’ and ‘Golden Fleece’ have, the latter putting out loads of banners indicating a themed night just about every night (Pool, curry, whatever).  ‘George V’ seems to have rather an amateur as the new tenant, given the poor quality of the new signs.

I did not report ‘The Terriers’ (which I remember as ‘The Black Boy’) which was up for sale, but now under new management, as the phrase goes, also under the tie of a brewery company formerly unknown in the area – Greene King.  What I remember as ‘The Cock Inn’ (on Cock Lane) has morphed yet again – it was closed for some time after its ‘Red Lion’ incarnation – as ‘The Junction’ restropub.

I wonder just how much the current recession is both populating these surviving pubs with new tenants, and the dire state of the market they are competing in.