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The return of the corner shop – a personal account

Covid-19 has heightened consumers’ sensitivity towards food quality and proximity. People are looking for trust and resilience in the food chain, something that wasn’t as relevant in the past years, in which big retail chains were increasingly taking over the market lead.

Observing trends in neighbouring countries can bring useful insights about consumer demand. As panic buying all over Europe has shown, borders can not stop information flow and the internet from influencing consumer behaviour.

What we know as “Spätis” and “Tante Emma Läden” in Germany are known as corner shops in the UK.´s Feet on the Ground in the UK, John shares his view on why Covid-19 has brought on a trend of supporting local small business owners.

“Pop down the shop for some fish fingers. And take the dog!”

This was one of the few chores as a kid growing up near London that my brother and I loved to do during our summer holidays. We knew the owner, Mr Gulliver, very well and he would always slip a few more sweets into our bag. Sometimes, he would also remind us that our parents had forgotten one or other item in their weekly shop, too.

Then, in the sixties and seventies, the growth of the supermarkets and convenience stores open all hours rapidly killed off the corner shop trade, as they couldn’t compete on price or the convenience of out of town parking spaces. As my mum got her first freezer, we were able to “buy in bulk” saving money and helping feed three growing, hungry boys.

So, why is the corner shop returning during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Safety – the large supermarkets with their long queues, crowds of customers and staff suddenly seem like a more dangerous place to shop. Many of the older customers do not follow the one way systems or stand for ages in the aisles looking at all the range of products, meaning you can’t go past them.

A friendly face – “Morning, how are you?” asks the Czech man who runs my local corner shop, always smiling and chatting about the situation. His smaller shop seems to stock many things, including fresher looking local fruit and vegetables. If you can’t find something, he will get it for you next time. As he says, he is doing 17 hours a day to keep the shop stocked for local people.

My anger – the seven supermarkets who make up nearly 90% of the food and drink retail in the UK have not only been selling between four and five times more than usual, they have taken away many of the special offers or multi-buy offers so vital for poorer families. As our food banks are more and more frequently needed, these huge chains are doing nothing to support those smaller businesses or the people who need the most help now.

They even have the cheek to advertise thanking their own staff for their “heroic” efforts in restocking the shelves so we can spend more in their shops. I think they should be taxed more heavily to help support the healthcare services and obliged to contribute to food charities.

As we now take more care in choosing where and when to shop, what to buy and what values are shown by the brands we select, I hope this will see the return of a friendlier, slower, more human side to our purchase – the corner shop!

Cheers, John