My local greengrocer closed last month. From a chain of four David Rhodes shops only one survives. Mine was ramshackle, tatty and permanently cold but also warm and friendly .
That it was June and they hadn’t taken down the Xmas tree sale sign was a sign the end was near . That it had been there since the previous Christmas showed the end was a long-time coming .
Fifty metres away on either side of the road lurk a Sainsburys and a Tescos Express .
I said: “ You can’t compete.”
Errol, about 60, had worked at David Rhodes for years said : “ Our prices are better than theirs, it’s the rent and business rates that does us. It costs 375 quid a day just to open the place. “
Their prices were better for a few things but the supermarkets beat them on most. And how much easier is it to pick up tomatoes at the same time, in the same place as the pasta.
I would go their once a week and fill my bag with vegetables. If they weren’t sorting out the display one of the the rotating cast, who manned the shop from early morning to late at night, would be sitting on a low stool in the corner rolling a cigarette.
They knew customers and passers-by by name. Chefs from nearby restaurants would hurry in, pick-up a few lemons and leave, promising to pay later.
They advised me; To save leak leaves to make soup, roast the new potatoes and the cheap Chinese garlic was a waste of time. I now buy two ready-trimmed leak sealed in plastic. They’re cheaper. But were my locals’ fresher and did they taste better? in my imagination they do.
They’d knock down the price a bit if the goods looked damaged or they wanted to get rid of something. Surprise veg like cauliflower shaped broccoli would appear seemingly at random for a week. I could buy a couple of tomatoes or a handful of herbs. Always cash no cards.
If I’d been away , Errol , something of a local personality, would want to know where I’d been, even if I was hundred yards away and he had to shout to find out.
In truth I feel guilty. I know local shops are important, I was amazed they survived for so long after the supermarket chains opened . I know they needed my custom and I’d miss them when they’re gone. But I’d stopped bothering to walk 50 metres.
I asked Errol what would happen to him ?
“ Don’t know what I’ll do now “. he said. “ Something will turn up.”
The surviving David Rhodes greengrocer , Portland Road, Hove.