New Cross protest against big brands

“The New Cross Federation” is a local campaign group that opposes the opening of a new Sainsbury’s Local in New Cross, opposite Goldsmiths. They will be protesting on Thursday 20th October, outside Sainsbury’s Head Office, 33 Holborn, London EC1N 2HT 12-2pm. They say:

If you are worried about the destruction of small shops and the takeover of our communities by corporations, then please come and join us, and please sign the petition at

All the usual full disclosure is necessary before we proceed: Our employer, Edelman, does a small amount of work for Sainsbury’s, helping with the developing their annual CSR report. So you can discount whatever we have to say on the matter if you like – as you can discount what we have to say about pretty much anything.

We asked one of the campaign organisers, Chris Boddington, who owns Cafe Crema in New Cross, about a couple of the key assumptions behind the campaign.

The first of these is that the New Cross retail economy is a zero-sum game. According to this logic, the revenue that this Sainsbury’s makes must be generated by reduced revenues for other local businesses. We don’t think that’s true – we think New Cross currently does a pretty poor job of catering to local people’s shopping needs and there is a lot more money to be made locally. Chris said:

At a meeting in August with New Cross Federation members (local traders and councillors) Sainsbury’s management stated that the reason for opening a small store (a ‘Local’) in addition to the large store already operating in SE14, is to pick up the ‘top-up’ trade – i.e. shoppers who do their weekly shop at the big store, but who may need to top-up with a few items mid-week. This is exactly the trade that small, independent shops rely upon for their living.

They conveniently ignore the fact that in any community there is a finite amount of money that residents need to spend on groceries each week. A new shop opening does not mean that business will be drummed up out of thin air.

At least 50% of the shoppers in New Cross are students at Goldsmiths College. The new store will be opposite the main entrance of the college. In addition to groceries, it will sell ready-to-eat takeaway food, which will take trade away from the two cafes immediately adjacent to it, as well as the many other independent cafes and takeaway counters in the area. It will also sell alcohol, taking trade from off-licences.

The second assumption is that this will cause displacement, with existing shops forced out of the area. But this is a unit that has been empty for years. By opening, it might encourage more people to shop locally and more shops to set up nearby to capitalise on the extra footfall. Chris said:

It is true that it's a shame to have a shop standing empty for years, but it doesn’t follow that it’s better to put it to any use whatsoever. Large corporations are willing to pay much more in rent than small traders or other organisations are able to, so landlords will jump at the chance to have them as tenants. Once this becomes the trend in any given area, why would any landlord settle for poorer tenants?

I’d rather see one empty shop than that kind of corporate Stalinism, and I’d rather see the money I spend going into the pockets of local people rather than being hoovered up by distant millionaire shareholders and corporate directors.

The campaigners believe that this is bad news for local business and that the people of New Cross don’t want chain stores. Today’s news of a planned opening of a new independent food store just down the road and the quiver of local excitement about New Cross’ new TK Maxx suggest that neither of these propositions is necessarily true. Time will tell.