angelhands wanted me to get the bus today so that she could go to Wakefield. I told her I would compromise by allowing her to take me to Picton Clock where there is a better chance of getting the bus. As it happened I ended up getting the Stagecoach 78 [the one that only goes half the journey] from outside the Thatched House pub on Wavertree High Street. I got thinking, as I walked past the old Abbey Cinema (now Somerfield’s and Chav Bingo) and the new “luxury” apartments (still empty) on what was once an independent petrol station, how much Wavertree Road must have changed in 30 years.
Wavertree High Street, what was once a bustling hive of pre-nightclub drinking establishments (pubs that local people heading into town would congregate at before hopping on a bus or flagging a taxi and heading to
crowded, noisy, sweaty meat markets nightclubs in the city), is now in the advanced stages of dilapidation. Most of the infamous chav bars and pubs seem to have closed or lost their licence. I also noted the miasma of boarded up shops and industrial units, the closed greengrocers, the never-to-open-again bakeries, the terminated clothes shops and the ceased-trading card and gift shops amongst many other shops. Closed. Gone. No more. The High Street, once adorned with welcoming shop shingles, now decorated with To Let and For Sale signs. Some buildings empty for so long they are now burnt out or falling down. The further you head into the city centre the more the decay is apparent. Buildings that were once pubs now empty burnt out shells; Empty shells of once popular Nightclubs and snooker halls, their exterior graced with long forgotten scaffolding, graffito and bill postings; Once proud terraced housing, tinned up1 their roofs caved in or stripped of lead flashing.
How has this decay been able to spread? Why is there so much rot on the street that once boasted more pubs per mile than Scotland Road, Botanical Gardens, a Town Hall and its own swimming baths? Its not just the buildings that rot. The local economy and the local populace suffer too. But do the people that live there worry about it? Do they actually care? Probably not. Yet if the council were to say “Hey lets pull these buildings down and widen the road to accommodate the volume of traffic that passes along Wavertree Road and High Street and build new homes instead of those horrid crumbling terraces!” there would be an outcry. Those residents that remain would say “Arrr ey! Thas me ‘ouse! I wuz born in dat ‘ouse and so wuz me gran” or “Don’t pull down de shops lah. There aren’t enough shop units as there is. Think about local enterprise kidda!”. The local residents would then jump into their Ford Sierras and drive to Smithdown Road (where there is similar dilapidation) and into Asda, which does alright “an’ ar kids kid werks der lah!”. Ironic because my theory is these behemoths of retail are the main cause of the decay. Possibly also laziness and possibly also employment.
A (probably totally inaccurate) Social history of the House
In times gone by, the lady of the house might have stayed at home to look after the kids and do the house work. Housewife was an acceptable occupation and many jobs around the house would take all day to do. Like the washing. None of this washing machine malarkey, the washing was done by hand and really was hard work. The housewife would, at some point of the week, traverse down to the local shops (by foot) and buy the groceries for the week from the local butcher, baker, greengrocer and candlestick maker. Maybe, if they were lucky enough to live near one, they might hop on an omnibus or tram and head to the local market and come back laden with local produce fresh from the fields and fens. Then women got the vote. They became empowered. The Second world war happened and some women juggled housework with munitions production. They had a taste of work and being paid for their time. Come the 1950’s the traditional stay-at-home wife ideal came back and new technologies and labour saving devices promised a brave new world. But women had shrugged off the shackles of housework drudgery, they had broken free of the chains of “Stay at home” and had tasted the sweet taste of employment, money and even success. By the 1960’s they were burning their bras empowering each other and becoming independent while by the early 1970’s technology, child care and “Stay at home Grandparents” had progressed to such that the length of time someone needed to “Stay-at-home” was reduced#. They could do the washing and the ironing and stuff after they had returned home. Of course, income into the house had increased too. No longer was it the case that the man of the house earned the substantial lump to pay for the day to day finances of the house but there was a second income. The wife earned enough to pay for things and luxuries. But wait! There was something stifling this financial boom. Something wrong in the state of Denmark. Something so mind bogglingly simple that it was only a matter of time before someone was to snap up the solution and profit from it! Who would that be? Dave? Charlie? Little Billy? Shiva the dog?
A (probably totally inaccurate) Social History of the Supermarket
Early retailers did not trust their customers. In many stores, all products had to be fetched by an assistant from high shelves on one side of a counter while the customers stood on the other side and pointed to what they wanted. Also, many foods did not come in the individually wrapped consumer-size packages taken for granted today, so a clerk had to measure out the precise amount desired by the consumer. These practices were obviously labour-intensive and therefore quite expensive.
The concept of a self-service grocery store was developed by Clarence Saunders and his Piggly Wiggly stores. A&P was the most successful of the early chains in the United States, having become common in American cities in the 1920s. The general trend in retail since then has been to stack shelves at night and let the customers get their own goods and bring them to the front of the store to pay for them. Although there is a higher risk of shoplifting, the costs of appropriate security measures will be ideally outweighed by the economies of scale and reduced labour costs.
Indeed the supermarket grew from small convenient “end of the high street” grocers to huge megalithic corporate drains and with the convenience came late openings, weekend openings and more so. I can remember a time, when I was younger, when shops would close half day Wednesday and Saturday and all day Sunday. If you’d run out of bread on a Wednesday after 3…tough! (Though you would have been able to nip to the Co-Op, Colin Sykes or local KwikSave if you lived near one). Then came the mega supermarkets. Often out of town these huge sprawling shopopolises had large car parks to cater for the droves of people (my first memorable visit to such a place was to the Asda in Widnes (now demolished and relocated to an even bigger site on what was once part of the market) followed by the new Sainsbury’s in Woolton in 1982) and often opened later than Mr Green the Greengrocer, Mr Meat the Butcher and Mr Cod the Fishmonger who tended to close their doors at 5pm….after all who wants to work after 5pm? Besides! Now you could drive right up to the shop. Laden your trolley with loads of goodies, without having to trudge from shop to shop carrying big bags of shopping. Ooh and look! You have a freezer now too! Lets freeze some things then we don’t have to come back till next month freeing up our time! Ok Freezing will make some of the foods lose their flavour but fuck it! Its the 1970’s! Everything tastes bland anyway!2
More Reasons Not to shop at Morrison’s
As the supermarkets grew in stature the high street shops started to faulter.
There was no need to go to the bakers for bread – Supermarkets had their own bakeries!
There was no need to go to the butchers for meat – Fuck that! We have pre-packaged meat for you here! In convenient handy packets and if you don’t want that…why not go to our meat counter and our ex-butcher will cut you some off and charge you less!
There was no need to go to the greengrocers – Who wants misshapen veg and battered fruit? No one! Kids won’t eat knobbly carrots? No problem! Come to us and have our straight carrots and parsnips. We sell only the finest freshest fruit and veg because we get our fruit and veg from our farmers! Hell if they even dare to sell us a knobbly carrot we’ll drop them like a hot coal and they’ll never be able to afford to fill their 4×4 with diesel again! Out of season? Who cares about global warming and pollution? Not you! We’ll get your veg flown in from Taiwan or Turkmenistan! That way we pay the farmers even less and transfer the savings to our pocket!
There was no need to go to the delicatessen for those essential meat cuts – No no no! We have our own deli counter. Our cooked pressed meat is only 40% water!
There was no need to go to Newsagents – Who wants to stand in a newsagent trying to get the latest Hello Heat or Razzle but can’t get to the magazine racks because of the wankers reading Fishing Today, Geeks Weekly and Fortean Times? No one! So we only stock the magazines you want to read! Thus eliminating the competition
There was no need to trudge into town for clothes – Hell no! Our clothes have all been made in sweat shops in Korea, they’ll only fall apart after 6 months but they’re so fucking cheap you won’t give a fuck!
Hang on! There’s no need to go to the pub or the offie3– Christ no! Why sit in a smelly old house full of people you don’t know that might stab you for not letting them have a light? Get yourself a crate of beer from our handy beer, wine and spirits aisle. Now you can drink with all your pals or drink yourself to depression in the comfort and safety of your own home. For less!
Wait! You mean….I don’t have to go to several shops laden with bags and risk getting mugged or wet? – Of course not come to us. We will keep you dry and you can wheel your shopping direct to your car or bus in one of our handy trolleys. None of them crappy tartan shopping carts your gran used. No! Stuff them! In fact why bother even coming here! We’ll come to you! Just point your internet to us and we’ll deliver all the wrong stuff direct to your door!
Ah but driving to the supermarket will cost me petrol! – Don’t worry! We have petrol stations! Don’t trust them losers on the high street! They’ve been ripping you off for years and hey? What do they know about petrol? eh?
Gosh I am becoming more and more convinced! – Good! While you’re here…why not look into our insurance, mobile phones and life assurance plans! Bend over!
Yes…these are the sweet seductive words supermarkets use to entice us into their warm fleshy folds….widening our anuses with the junk and crap they spew at us before bending us over and slipping themselves through our back entrances so smoothly we cannot feel them…..feels good don’t it? Mmmmm yeah :-F Meanwhile we lose our variety of high street shops. Gone is the cheerful butcher, the jolly greengrocer and his philandering ways and hey that baker was a sex pest anyway.
The high street has almost gone and with the boarded up shops comes crime, disease, corruption and worse. But the onslaught doesn’t stop there. It goes on! Yes! It does! Now it is starting to affect those well established in the city centre! Supermarkets now sell music CD’s, software, computers, eye-sight tests, kettles, fridges, TV’s, insurance, pensions, jewellery, soap and other toiletries, cards, DIY hardware…..already the retail giants such as HMV (music), Curry’s (Electronics), Clinton (cards), Boots (toiletries and pharmaceuticals) are reporting losses. Smaller independent specialist retailers still draw people into the town centres and likewise some to High Streets but I fear it wont be long until they too find it unprofitable to be out in the town centres and move to units nearer the supermarkets. But that may not be taking into account the throw away culture. Something I might discuss at a later date.
Back to my point
Tangents….great aren’t they. Anyway….what I was saying was about Wavertree High Street.
In the days of the housewife, Wavertree Road and High Street would have been bustling with people buying this from that shop. That from this shop and so on….but as the bigger out of town supermarkets grew the shops on Wavertree Road and High Street declined. Their decline increased even more when Asda opened up on Smithdown Road (a mere stones throw away). Likewise the hidden road of Laurence Road which once also contained an abundance of shops declined in sync with the High Street as more and more shops closed due to lack of trade. Allerton Road, though still quite busy, is in an affluent area (much like Woolton Village). There, those that can afford to stay at home, stay at home and regally parade up and down the road shopping in the highly successful butchers, green grocers and fishmongers that flourish in the shadow of Tescos. Why? How is this? Because these women can do their ambling between the hours of 9 and 5. Walking from shop to shop, gossiping, greeting their contemporaries and lunching as if they were society ladies in Knightsbridge, when they aren’t….they’re vile socialites who sit like mantises at in the middle of the food chain.
But because Wavertree Road and High Street isn’t in an affluent area (and potentially Mantis Free) the area suffers. Some shops have been replaced by struggling specialists and cheap take-aways, others boarded up shells. The faded names long forgotten shops peeking out from above corrugated iron are all that’s left of a once prosperous street. Maybe a time will come when people realise that the variety of colourful retail outlets have faded and return once more to Mr Green and Mr Cod. Maybe one day people will realise the damage supermarkets do to their local area and support local businesses. Maybe I have been at the port again. Maybe I haven’t and maybe things will never return to the days of high street shopping. I know in Liverpool at least this trend is increasing and that in London some greengrocers and bakers stay open well past 5pm in an effort to attract the passing trade of the returning commuter. So there is hope yet. But our love affair with convenience and the culture-of-now may mean that this will be but a passing phase. Saddened by the loss of independent shops I have recently had the urge to bill poster the shuttered façades of shops with the words “This shop was murdered by < insert local supermarket’s name here>” however I fear that I might get arrested and detained for 90 days under suspicion of terrorism.
So I ask of you dear reader. Just for one day at least. Forego the supermarket and shop at your local markets and shops. Buy locally produced food, maybe pay a little more, maybe surprise yourself and pay less. But just for one day shop locally. You might be surprised! Then, if you like it, tell your friends. Maybe the local shops will rise again and who knows what good you will do for your local community.
1 Tinned up – the act of fitting secure corrugated iron fixtures to windows and doors to protect a vacant property from would-be squatters, vandals and drug users.
2 This is true not conjecture….just look at any cookery book from the 1970’s. Nothing has any flavour and the ingredients are all wrong and horrid.
3 Liquor store in Merrycan
# – Ok I’ll agree that some women did part time work on top of what they did at home. But still, there were days when most of the day was taken up by housework and shopping for groceries took a while.