Independent and chainstore retailing do not have to be mutually exclusive.
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Penrith in Cumbria is a singular place from a retail perspective. It may not be remote, but it takes a while to get to and owing to its distance from other places this is a community that trades within its own confines.
The outcome of this is that there are an unusually high number of independent operators in the town. There can’t be many places this size in the UK where, for instance, there are two bridalwear shops more or less opposite each other, a butcher, a very well-established and large deli and a sizable Co-op department store. The other point is that as you wander around it is also apparent that there are hardly any empty shops. Indeed, there are moments when it seems that almost every unit that hasn’t been taken by a retailer has been turned into a pub.
A seemingly self-contained town therefore with just a smattering of the big players in its environs including an edge-of-town Morrisons, a Boots, a WHSmiths and a Clinton Cards that has seen better days if the deflated balloons in its windows are anything to go by.
Things are changing however: Sainsbury’s is coming to town. Unlike Morrisons, and it will not be on the same scale, this one is in the centre of Penrith and appears to be going up very quickly. And when it is finished it will be interesting to see what happens next. The Co-op notwithstanding, there are quite a number of specialist food shops in town and it is hard not to wonder whether they will survive the arrival of the southern-based supermarket.
Actually, the chances are good that they may well do so as while Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and the Co-op are all very good at offering standard fare, the specialists will, if they are smart, continue to move upmarket and to cater for incoming tourists and locals alike. A few months ago, in this column I wrote that traders in Whitstable in Kent were up in arms about the arrival of Tesco. Perhaps they have reason to be so, but the preponderance of independent retailers and chains in Penrith shows that there can be room for both. You’d be hard pushed not to find something to like about Penrith and of course, as always, indies will come and go, depending on how efficiently they are run and how well they establish a point of difference. That said, there can be room for both.
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