Supermarket tourism

25Jun11

A shorter version of this appeared in Venue a couple of weeks back, but didn’t go onto the website. Thought I might give it another airing here just to show I’ve not fogotten this here blog altogether …

Want to feel you’re the slimmest and best-looking person in the room? Yes? Well, you don’t need pills, surgery, alcohol or mind-altering drugs! Just go to ASDA in Bedminster.

If, on the other hand, you want to feel old, fat and ugly, the Clifton Waitrose is the place to be.

If you’re a twentysomething on the marriage market and seeking someone with reasonable-to-excellent prospects, the Clifton Down Sainsburys is a target-rich environment. (Indeed, many years ago, someone used the personal ads in Venue to organise “singles nights”, where young lonelyhearts did just that.)

If you are in your 30s or 40s, and looking to get back into the game after long term relationship bust-up, the immense Bradley Stoke Tesco is the best game in town. Half the inhabitants of Brad Stoke are young couples just getting on the housing ladder, while the other half are there because it’s the best they could afford after splitting the proceeds of the family home on getting divorced.

So try some supermarket tourism why don’t you? In these austere times, you might end up saving a few quid. If nothing else, it makes for brilliant people-watching.

All supermarkets are different. Not just the companies, but the individual branches, too. They all have different personalities, reflecting the age, class and ethnicity of their customers. So at Tesco Eastville, for instance, you get a very wide ethnic diversity of customers and staff, and several shelves of Fancy Foreign Foodstuffs. If, on the other hand, you go to otherwise very similar Sainsburys in Abbey Wood, the customers are overwhelmingly white and there’s much less FFFs in stock.

At the top of the hierarchy is Waitrose. All the lovely things in Waitrose are priced accordingly. But the John Lewis Group is an excellent employer which shares its profits with the staff. If they want to fleece wealthy people who simply must have those darling extra-extra virgin humus and blue tit tartlets sustainably killed in gold-plated spring water, that’s their business.

Many customers at Bristol’s biggest Waitrose (Henleaze) are horrible. They are busy and important people, and by the time they get into the store they’re in a foul mood because they dinged the 4X4 on another 4×4 in the cramped car park, and they’ve only got 20 minutes for the shop before they have to pick up Millie for her flute lesson and fetch Toby from his playdate, so jolly well get out of their bloody way at once. This isn’t necessarily a class thing; the second-largest concentration of arseholes in Bristol is at Bedminster ASDA.

Next in the pecking order comes Sainsburys, which some wag once remarked is a very good thing as it keeps the riff-raff out of Waitrose. Then there is Tesco in all is multiple and diverse forms. Then the likes of ASDA and Morrisons, and with Aldi and Lidl bringing up the rear. FWIW the Southmead Aldi’s customers I’ve always found to be the nicest in Bristol; in addition to chatty and courteous people there’s the added bonus of mysterious and extremely cheap meat products with foreign labels and sell-by dates comfortably in the next century.

Those who complain that supermarkets are a Bad Thing I think are missing a more important and nuanced point. The really insidious places are the little convenience stores that have sprung up all over the place. You might not have noticed this if you’re not in the habit of exploring the city’s side-streets (as I am; long story.) but whole swathes of central Bristol where there were once offices, workshops and warehouses have now been turned into flats, sorry, apartments. And on every street corner in these areas there’s a convenience store that probably wasn’t there ten years ago.

In Bristol, Tesco’s to blame for a lot of them, but so is the Co-Op. The Tesco on Cheltenham Road of recent riotous notoriety is just such a place. These districts are mostly inhabited by people who own or rent flats to which they feel no permanent attachment; they are just living here until they buy a house, or the job moves them to another town. There’s little sense of community, and the corporate convenience stores reflect this. Tesco, Co-op or whoever, the shops are corporate monocultures with no personality, are just there to drive market share.

But in other, bigger urban supermarkets, people bump into their friends, they stop and chat, they will arrange to meet at the cafe, they take advantage of the small-ad cards the store offers. This is what you see if you visit, say, the Fishponds Morrisons, Golden Hill Tesco, or most of the big urban stores in Bristol. Though not, of course, the out-of-town ones at, say Cribbs Causeway. Many big stores do contribute to their communities; in the case of Bradley Stoke it might even be argued that Tesco helped create a community.

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One Response to “Supermarket tourism”

  1. 1 Elliot

    Great blog! Bedminster Asda is unfortunately my local supermarket, all I can say is DO NOT make eye contact with anyone in there. A friend said they once saw someone pissing on the self-service tills, I guess that sums it up really.

    A couple you missed out: Sainsbury’s on Winterstoke Road in Ashton – full of people with cars on hire-purchase, go on holiday in Marbella and don’t want people to know they live in Ashton. And Tesco Knowle; an actually pretty nice and airy supermarket full of people too clever/scared to go to Bedminster Asda.


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