With the next edition of the Hackney Gazette expected to report on local opposition to a Tesco Express taking up residence at 144-146 Lower Clapton Road, this might be a good moment to fortify emotion with cold-eyed realism. Like all the fellow residents in the photograph above (taken yesterday), I love the friendliness and individuality of Palm 2 and many of our other local shops. The prospect of any of them being driven out of the business thanks to a branch of the ravenous Tesco giant having the mass buying power to undercut them on price is distressing.
I can understand too peoples' anxieties about what might replace them. Bookmaker or fast food chains or charity shops all have a perfectly legitimate place in my view, but when the range of retailers begins to narrow so that only a few types dominate, a neighbourhood can soon start feeling soulless, shabby and samey with demoralising consequences. Empty units can also end up simply standing empty. It's obvious from the speed at which shopkeepers come and go in Lower Clapton Road that many find it hard to make a living as it is.
Having said all that it should be recognised that holding back the Tesco tide will not be easy, and that one big reason is that not everyone around here wants to. Tesco are not daft: they wouldn't want to set up shop by Clapton Pond if they weren't confident of that a profitable number of customers will welcome them. Even a couple of the campaigners acknowledged to me yesterday that they know of residents, including some who live in Shire Close and Alva Court, who can see advantages in having a Tesco Express on their doorsteps. Why? Convenience, quality, low prices - the very reasons why Tesco has become the business phenomenon that it is.
Then there are the limited powers of the Council to prevent or discourage this happening. They cannot stop the owner of the premises, Family Mosaic, from letting the space to Tesco. Opponents' best hope appears to be persuading the Council to turn down the company's applications for delivery hours to be extended to include late evenings and bank holidays and being allowed to load and unload in front of the building. The latter, would, I'm told, entail consultation with Transport for London, which is responsible for the smooth-running of the red route.
All our ward Councillors echo the campaigners' advice to write individual letters of objection. Details of the permissions being sought can be found here and advice on objecting can be found here. The campaign website also raises a question over whether the procedure for initially encouraging the unit to be used for "affordable office space" before a retailer was sought was properly followed.
No doubt all of these possible means of blocking or at least slowing the progress of the Express will be vigorously pursued by the campaigners. However, Tesco's power and determination is not in doubt. The Council is well aware that the company has a record for not being deterred when local authorities place obstacles in its way, and that a point would very likely be reached when the expense involved in fighting a succession of appeals and challenges would become hard to justify to the council tax-payer. And those for whom fighting the giant is a moral cause would be naive not to recognise the counter argument that Tesco are the business of giving people what they want.
It may be that many of the independent shopkeepers some us so cherish will, in the end, be left with no choice but to compete with a powerful newcomer. Perhaps they should consider ways of working together and more closely with their customers to ensure that they make the best of their individuality and do all they can to keep the prices of some basic goods as low as possible. Some sort of hyper-local marketing campaign might be worth trying too.
But in the end, the answer lies with the local community. The best thing many of us who can afford it could do to help would be to start spending less on those convenient home deliveries from Sainsburys or Waitrose - or whichever supermarket we disaprove of less than Tesco - and begin putting more in our small shopkeepers' tills.