Clone Town Syndrome


Take a look around any high street in Britain, from your home town to Portswood High-street. Boots the Chemist, Iceland, a couple of supermarkets dotted around: you would be very hard pressed to escape a shop which you hadn’t seen before.

50 years ago the opening of the first Tesco store was an exciting novelty. People marvelled at the fact that in one place you could save a trip to the butchers, the green grocers, the local bakery and the convenience store.

Over 12,000 specialist stores closed between 1997 and 2002.

However, each high-street still retained its own flavour of individuality – you could be guaranteed to know where your food came from, and be on speaking terms with shop owners who really knew their products.

One such shop owner still remaining is John Gannaway, whose family have owned the T. & G. Gannaway green grocers in Portswood for over 30 years. His family can trace their roots in this trade back to the 1800s, yet the recent rise in supermarket chains is threatening their business.

55p out of every £1 spent in Britain goes to one of the “Big 4”: Tescos, Asda, Sainsbury’s or Morrisons.

With a Waitrose, Iceland, Co-op and soon a Sainsbury’s all within very close proximity to each other, the future is looking very worrying for John.

“We will lose business. Now we have both the Waitrose and the Co-op, but with the new supermarket opening we’re a bit concerned, it’s not doing us any favours.”

“It’s a bit upsetting. There’s an ironmongers down there, I really don’t know how he’s surviving against B&Q. Independent shops are dying, its a sad state. I hope people change. We just really don’t know what will happen.” 

There are 31 Tesco stores within 10 miles of Highfield campus.

As exciting to the average student as BOGOF offers, 3-4-2 deals, and cheap noodles are, should students be taking some responsibility in helping small businesses to keep their place on the high street?

John relies heavily on customers who break the trend of shoppers deciding that the convenience of buying all items in one shop is more important than the quality and variety on offer.

“Being a specialist shop does help us,” explains John. “We’ve got a lot of good loyal customers. We’ve been here a long time, but it only goes so far. It might end, we’re unsure which way it’s going to go.”

“Have you seen the size of the new Sainsbury’s? So much for it being tucked around the corner… It’s scary, it’s just so big.”

There are 5 Sainsbury’s within 2 miles of Highfield.

Shop keepers are not the only losers in the supermarket monopoly. The BBC programme Panorama, investigating supermarket’s treatment of their suppliers, found those suppliers to be terrified of complaining of cheap prices which were forced upon them.  They knew full well that their contracts would be dropped without hesitation if they did not agree to prices which are far lower than those which a sustainable and successful business needs.

24 out of the 93 shops on Portswood high-street are major national chains.

Mary Portas, the retail expert, has been appointed as a ‘shops tsar’ by David Cameron. Her report, released this Autumn, should help identify solutions to the problem of chain stores, and are part of the Conservatives’ drive to encourage locally based businesses, with a more diverse and independent retail industry being the goal.

The spread of chain stores is affecting not only the aesthetic of our high-streets, but our local businesses and industry. With chain stores expanding their businesses oversees, soon you may not only have identical streets around Britain, but across the world too.

With companies both British and foreign expanding into international markets, who knows how far the “Clone Town Syndrome” could  go?


The Wessex Scene would like to apologise to October Books for including their picture in the Wessex Scene Magazine alongside a number of chain shops. October Books is an independent co-operative in Portswood. 


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