a consuming shame

There has been a Tesco Extra open near to us in Sheffield for a couple of months now. It is located just at the edge (the town side) of a vibrant, mixed and low income/high unemployment shopping area called Ellesmere Green or Spital Hill. There was a lot of discussion before the giant supermarket opened its doors about how it would affect the 50+ independent shops that operate nearby – there are no chain stores at all apart from the post office. Many on the liberal green and left were uncomfortable about the supermarket; Tesco had already opened a small store in a nearby shopping area and had the main local supermarket down by the Penistone Road. Discussion often centred around the fact that Tesco would challenge the small shops, the independent shops selling international foods, large sacks of rice, flour, myriad vegetables and fruit, each one serving, apparently, a particular group. Tesco, the big bad giant, would put them out of business, wouldn’t it? Destroy the community shopping facilities.

Two months later the affect on the local shops is yet to be played out however it has been an exiting process getting to know the new Tesco. Well I have found it so anyway even though at times some of my positive comments have made me uncomfortable. One sticking point for many was the stocking of ‘world foods’. Tesco, it was said, should not stock them and allow the local shops free reign perhaps. Tesco stocks what it sees fit however and the aisles of ‘world foods’ are busy as is the Halal Butchery. As I stand there looking, consuming, I realise the impossibility of not allowing certain foods to be stocked – indeed the necessity of stocking what local people want – of the sharing of the facility – of the lack of exclusion.

Meeting people I know at the shop has often meant meeting the following comment: Hey! Another one who said they’d never shop in the new Tesco! There was a shared feeling of guilt in being there, a consuming shame. I have yet to shop there in the day so all my comments are based on late shopping moments, after the children are asleep. So it seems is the pattern of many of the people I know. There are two car parks in the new shop. The upper level, the smaller by far, is accessed directly from Spital Hill and is where we, the locals, are found. The lower level is for the others, or that’s how it feels. The shop was never designed to feed the locals alone but the wider northern area of Sheffield accessed by Spital Hill and the road that leads to Attercliffe which passes below.

In the shop itself I not only know people who were successful in getting jobs there but I see so many people who I recognise from school pick ups, from other shops, from bus stops and walking along the road, accompanying children to the park. No where else do we come together is how it feels.

On Christmas Eve the shop felt practically radical. It was busy. Full of people. Everyone felt local. The shop becomes a place where people can see and be seen: I was left with a sense that this shop might actually build a sense of a wider community that is hard to access elsewhere so compartmentalised are we in our smaller groups of choice, descent or obligation.

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