The owners of a corner shop in Leyland say they face an uncertain future following the decision to approve a new Aldi supermarket just yards from the store where they have spent most of their lives.
The independently-run Costcutter shop on School Lane has been in the Brindle family for almost 60 years. David and his wife Margaret have owned the store since 1972 and their son Stephen has worked with them since he finished school nearly three decades ago.
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Reflecting on the imminent arrival of a new retail neighbour, David, 72, says he can no longer be certain that there will be a business left to hand over to his son.
“One never knows,” he smiles wryly, just a day after he made an impassioned plea to members of South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee to reject the proposal by the discount retailer to build a new store opposite his own.
He had argued that the outlet would do nothing to increase choice in the area – because Tesco, Asda, Morrissons and the current Aldi already lie within a mile radius of the planned new store.
“The land needed developing, but we didn’t need another supermarket,” David adds.
The Brindle’s business bears all the hallmarks of the diversification necessary to survive in a crowded and competitive grocery market. Along with the usual corner shop staples – including a traditional Slush Puppy machine – recent years have seen the arrival of parcel collection and bill-paying services.
But for Stephen, independent shops like the one he hopes to inherit still have a unique selling point that the supermarkets cannot match.
“People want to feel welcome and see a friendly face,” he explains.
“We get a lot of pensioners in who maybe live at home on their own and we help them out, even if it’s just by having a little chat. Do they get that in a supermarket? I don’t believe they do.”
Warning that small shops will be “missed when they’re gone”, Stephen adds that an appreciation of personal service is not limited just to older generations.
“We’ve had parents coming in with their children, then years later, those children bring their own kids in.”
Meanwhile, Margaret – who will turn 70 this year – said her “heart sank” when the new Aldi was given the go-ahead. She says the threat to the family’s business was made worse by knowing how hard they all work to keep it afloat.
“I’m here at 5.15 every morning – and the shop is open until 10 at night,” Margaret says.
“Some combination of us is here nearly all the time – it’s a difficult job.”
Stephen adds that catering for increasingly discerning customers can become all-consuming.
“We don’t get the same number of holidays as most people – you might get the odd weekend here and there.
“It becomes part of your life and you’ve got to invest yourself in the business – it’s not like working for someone else 9 to 5, you’ve got to keep coming up with new ideas to draw people in.”