The Co-Op

Trafalgar Rd

I am proud of the Co-op – the little ‘ave a go Joe that fancies its chances enough to meet the Tesco Goliath head-on in the Battle of Trafalgar Road.

It’s stolen one March (fnarr fnarr) in that it’s managed to close, refurb and re-open in a matter of a couple of weeks while the lumbering retail monolith still thrashes around removing original Edwardian shop fittings and digging foundations down to Australia.

Which is why I am truly sad to report that that’s just about the only thing that the Co-op has managed to do.

As you approach, it’s naturally the shop front that strikes first. What is it that makes supermarkets install giant plate glass windows then cover them in sticky-back plastic with close-up pictures of cabbages glistening with ‘morning dew?’ It’s not just the Co-op that does it – they all do – but don’t they realise that punters might actually prefer to have a couple fewer choices of penny wafer brands in return for a few rays of natural sunlight?

I am not going to say anything about the shop signs save that I’m assuming they’re temporary.

I have to admit that the Co-op is better now than it was. Tragically that’s not really saying much. My overall memory of the old store is a tatty display of cheap women’s mags falling out of the shelves as you walked in, followed by half-empty tatty displays of sad-looking veg and baskets of 2-for-1 bakewell tarts with orange stickers. Later on there was a tatty, half-empty display of yogurts with orange stickers and more bargain bins. When you’d finally made your choice, you’d either queue up at one of two tills which might or might not be open or stand in line at the cig counter.

As I walked in yesterday, the display of cheap women’s mags had expanded to a few more titles and was in shelves that looked like they might keep them a bit neater. The veg seemed slightly more various, but was already running out and looking hap-hazard. As I moved further into the store the fridges were new – but once again the products looked thin on the ground. The one thing they do seem to have bought in bulk are the ubiquitous orange stickers.

The tatty bargain bins remain. The gloomy lighting remains. And, even though they had the opportunity to change it, the ridiculous checkout system remains. They’ve admitted that the stand-alone checkout counters were never open and done away with them, but all they’ve replaced it with are several people at a long counter-like till with individual queues, rather than one queue feeding into all. It was only about 9.30 and people were already grumpy, complaining that ‘their’ queue was moving more slowly than anyone else’s.

Really – M&S manage to make these places look cool. The Co-op looks not much different to before. What staggers me is that they’ve obviously spent money on this – but have failed to do basic things like working out the queuing system. The not-very-encouraging counter to this is that Tescos probably won’t look much better.

I’m sad. I like the Co-op’s principles and would always prefer it to the might of the Tesco Titan. It’s made a few small forays – I liked the little display of essential DIY bits and bobs, for example, but though I might be wrong I seriously doubt the ability of this refit to stand up to the might of the Tesco Juggernaut.

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