First Published http://www.journal-online.co.uk 1.11.13
The people of Glasgow’s West End are very good at fighting for causes they believe in. Over the years we have consciously driven away a tower that was threatening to block out the sun and kept Byres Road’s Fopp alive. Subconsciously we have gentrified ourselves to the point where Waitrose had no choice but to roll into town.
Any resident of G12 will probably have become aware of Roots and Fruits, the established wholefood, fruit and flower shops, leading the charge against a Tesco that’s threatening to put them out of business. The mawkish displays of flowery-lettering and rounding up of support from slightly eccentric people (who will go straight into Tesco the moment it opens) are straight out of the bleeding-hearted Westender handbook.
Perhaps then, this would be an oppotune moment to point out to the beardy, lefty, quinoa-selling owner of Roots and Fruits that he himself is not immune to the darker side of the free market.
Around 25 years ago my mum used to run a florists on Otago Street, round the corner from Roots and Fruits. She had started the shop—quite incredibly—when she was 19 and went without a holiday the three years she ran it, often working from five in the morning late into the night. She loved it. It was, for want of a better phrase, her absolute pride and joy.
But the 1980s was a cut-throat age, very much like the one we’re living in now. Presented with a young and admittedly naive upstart, Mr Roots and Fruits did what any big-lapelled businessman would do. He drove my mum out of business. He started selling flowers where once he only sold fruit. He bought them for the same wholesale price and sold them for less than he paid. Just before Christmas, Roots opened a dedicated flower shop and my mum would watch as customers inspected her lillies before going round the corner to get them at knock down prices from him.
Not willing to run herself pointlessly into any debt (she ran it without even an overdraft) the florists had to close. The three girls employed by my mum lost their jobs. One actually received an apology from the then-wife of the owner. I’m sure it did the world of good.
My mum cried the day she put the shutter down, still barely into her 20s. It would be very easy for us all to sit here and say “well, that’s life.” But she doesn’t hold a grudge and would go on to run several other businesses with some success. She wouldn’t have moved to London and I wouldn’t have come into the world.
But while your heart goes out to the honest little wholefoods retailers being driven away by behemoth supermarkets it is perhaps best to remember that the free market is rarely fair. In fact at local business level it can be positively brutal.
Underneath the beard, the shaggy jumper and the battered van there is a man for whom shafting a 19-year-old’s flower shop (when he wasn’t even selling flowers) is completely natural, and simply another piece of business.
Drop the act pal, you’re no better than Tesco.