Over 200 pubs have been converted into supermarkets since the beginning of 2010, according to the Campaign for Real Ale. By far and away the main culprit is Tesco. To be fair to them, it’s so easy for Tesco to swoop in and make a grab as soon as a local pub goes out of business that if you were a corporate grocery giant with one third of all the country’s food, you’d do it. There’s no need for the supermarket chain to ask the council for planning permission, as, absurdly, changing a pub into a shop doesn’t count as a ‘change of use’.
Increasingly unwelcome and uninvited, ‘Express’ or ‘Local’ versions of the big chains are spreading like a fungal infection across Britain’s high streets. We mutter complaints about their arrival, but still use them. It’s just that they’re there, right? Right where you need them, at the end of the road stocked with bacon on a hungover Sunday morning, or on the way home from the tube on a rainy weekday evening. The long opening hours mean we get used to being able to buy food whenever the thought occurs. We know that it’s more expensive, but grudgingly accept it as a kind of laziness tax. We shop on the hop, when it suits us, just a few ingredients for that night’s dinner, and grow used to the high prices. And so the Tescopoly continues to grow.
If you live out in the sticks, a twenty minute drive away from the nearest proper supermarket, an Express opening down the road might be really handy. But Brixton has a fantastic market and some great independent shops. We don’t need this rash of supermarkets, but the chains are making sure we damn well get them anyway.
The campaign to save the Victorian George IV pub on Brixton Hill from the clutchy hands of Tesco has been up and running since the chain’s intentions became clear last year. Then news came in last week that Sainsbury’s plan to open a new 24 hour store on the corner of Tulse Hill and Water Lane. Yes, that’s right, that’s the other end of the street from the Sainsbury’s Local store on the corner of Water Lane and Brixton Hill.
Do join the campaigns and sign the petitions if, like me, you’re not that happy about this invasion. But how about also trying to avoid supermarkets as much as possible? Ok, I’m aware that I’m not going to bring down the corporate behemoth that is Tesco by buying my onions elsewhere, but I will save myself a fortune and know that it’s not my fault if every other Brixton shop becomes a supermarket chain. And even more than that, shopping in Brixton market and the surrounds is MUCH more fun.
Here’s where I’ll be shopping in my quest to resist the mindless lure of Sainsbury’s striplights, along with some Sainsbury’s Local or Tesco Express prices, so I can feel smug at how much money I’m going to save. If I’ve missed your favourite Brixton shop, do leave me a comment…
For meat: Dombey’s has been in Market Row since a very long time. Purveyors of great customer service as well as fairly priced meat, they are very knowledgeable and always happy to give advice. A whole leg of lamb is between £8 and £12, and I recently bought a massive pork loin joint for under eight quid. Oh, and don’t miss the homemadesausages.
Open Tues-Saturday from about 7.30-5, except Wed when they close at 3pm
500g extra lean mince £2.50 vs Tesco lean steak mince £4.00 for 500g
A kilo of chicken breast £5.99 vs. £10.63 per kilo at Sainsburys
For fish: I’ve written about Brixton Village’s Dagon’s before and continue to harp on about it because it’s the best fishmonger I’ve ever been to. Like Dombey’s, Dagon’s in a longstanding Brixton fixture that deserves plenty of praise for great prices and friendly, helpful service.
Open 8-5 Mon-Sat, early closing on Wed at around 2.30
Salmon £7.10 per kilo vs £16.67 per kilo at Sainsbury’s
For deli-type things: A&C Continental Deli is right by the tube and open until about 7pm on weekdays, so it’s very convenient. A tiny shop, it crams in a huge range of Mediterranean goodies – like morcilla sausage, smoked pork belly and cannelloni tubes – that are hard to find even in a large supermarket. Check out their olives, cheeses, homemade pesto and hummus and cold meats. Be warned though, their white fluffy bread is highly addictive.
Open 8-7 Mon-Sat, closed Sun
100g olives 70p–£1 vs £2.45 for 180g at Tesco
For wine:You will almost certainly be ripped off buying wine in an express supermarket, as this Guardian column explains. Far better to pay a visit to Market Row wines and ask David, the owner, what you should drink with you dinner/pour down your throat to get shitfaced. The shop’s selection is thoughtful and reasonably priced, and will make buying overpriced Jacobs Creek from Tesco Express seem ludicrous. There’s also wine available by the glass, which’ll make the rest of the shopping trip more interesting. Now that’s not an option at Sainbo’s Local….
Open 12–6 Tues and Wed; 12–9 Thurs, Fri, Sat; 10–4 Sun, closed Mon
2011 Spanish Tempranillo £6.50, 2011 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc £7.99
Or, from Tesco, how about a Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay for £7.49 or Hardy’s Cav Sav for £7.99. No? Ok.
Cupboard stuff: The Brixton Blog have written often about the excellent Nour, to which it seems unnecessary to add. With entrances at the top and of Electric Avenue and in Market Row, it might be slightly tricky to find the first time, and thanks to the odd shape of the premises, not easy to get into, but it’s full-to-bursting of all sorts of hard to find ingredients. I mean, they’re pretty difficult to find in Nour too, but odds are anything you want is in there somewhere…
Open 7am to 7pm everyday
Can of chick peas 35p vs 79p at Tesco
Fresh coriander around 50-70p a large bunch vs 85p for a few stalks at Sainsburys
Fruit and veg: Brixton is full of cheap fruit, veg, herbs etc, at prices sometimes a third of what the supermarkets charge. That first stall on Electric Avenue has been there for over fifty years, and is the perfect place to grab some fruit on the way to work. For me, wandering around Brixton market after work or at the weekend is one of the best things about living here. It is Brixton’s centre, and there’s not a self-service checkout in sight.
Five peppers from Brixton Market for £1 vs two for £1.25 at Tesco
And if you want to read more about how the supermarket chains are working their way into our high streets, there’s a good article here.