A store run by the people for the people has the potential to make a difference

Fancy working in a shop for nothing? Well, not quite actually. The deal at The People’s Supermarket in the Bloomsbury area of London is that if you spend a few hours a month manning the tills, stacking the shelves etc you get 10% off everything you buy in the shop. The calculation is that with staff costs being the major overhead in a store, if you can cut back, then staff discounts areeasy.

And both staff and volunteers appear to have done a good job. This used to be a run-down inconvenience store, one that rarely had what you wanted and where layout and ambiance were minor considerations. Now it has been rebranded and the cheerful yellow fascia leads to a fresh foods area at the front of the shop that looks as if a design consultancy has been giving things its best shot.

Yet, this is done “by the people, for the people” and Marxist overtones nothwithstanding, it looks very much better than in its previous avatar. You have to hope however that this is a work in progress, because the fresh foods, appetisingly displayed on tilted tables, give way to an ambient section that looks as if it could do with a little tlc.

The principle is good however and while both the website, Peoplessupermarket.org, and the store have a handmade feel to them, there is the sense that this is something that could be done by others, using goodwill and a determination to make more of tired stores. In general, local shopping, in neighbourhoods where the big supermarkets have not succeeded in making inroads, is a pretty dismal affair and so to see a new store that not only does things differently, but does so in a relatively attractive manner, is refreshing.

The People’s Supermarket does have the considerable advantage of course that it is situated on Lamb’s Conduit Street, a design-aware retail thoroughfare where student labour is readily available and the great middle classes will willingly club together to make a go of something like this. That said, there are numerous other locations across the UK where this could be a reality and genuine difference is always welcome.

There is also the possibility, and it remains no more than a possibility, that merchandising ideas and techniques could be sufficiently alternative from the modus operandi evinced by the big four, that we could all learn lessons. Just for a change, this is food retailing that is less about efficiency and throughput and rather more about offering a store that people will want to shop. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a visit.