Asda in London (The high costs of low prices)

18 Mar

Several weeks when I couldn’t get to sleep, I pulled up “The High Cost of Low Prices” on Netflix and watched with disgust, the story of Walmart.  There is a brief segment in the production about Walmart in the European market.  A Londoner explains that Asda (the European brand for Walmart) tried to buy the land that a centuries old market occupies (I can’t recall which market) in Central London. Pridefully, he reports how the vendors protested the sale successfully fending off the corporate invasion thus preserving a way of life. I have to say, what I love most about living in London is my local choice of small shops.  If I need meat, I have the butcher.  If I need bread, I have the baker.  If I need coffee, I have my choice of about sixteen cafes within 5 minutes walk of my door.  In fact, we chose this flat because of the vibrant village feel.  The restaurants, shops, and proximity  to the London Underground stop all helped us decide that this place was the one.

I have to admit, this flat was not my first choice. The flat I initially wanted was a proper Victorian row house with a bright and spacious yellow kitchen, a water closet downstairs, and three bedrooms up two sets of narrow stairs.  This was the first place we looked at when we were here in August, and I was immediately smitten.  We asked the agent to take us back to it a second time, and we were very close to asking to see the lease when my husband had the brainstorm that we should take a walk toward the shops and see what daily life would be like without a car.  As we stepped onto the high street (London-ese for “main street with shops”), we were struck by the number of empty storefronts and the overall depressed feeling.  It was quite odd because between our first and second viewing, we had enjoyed many glimpses of daily London bustle.  Every other residence we had viewed was situated near a cluster of shops and cafes with droves of people coming and going, but this place seemed to in an “iffy” area. Steve just looked at me and said, “I think we will feel very isolated and frustrated living here. It’s just not very nice.”

So, we chose to live across from the Common, on a busy city street but with a view of the park.  This is what it looks like once I leave my little garden gate and look across the busy road.

After I got settled in and had a few days to think about it, I was a little sad that we had opted for a place without a real kitchen.  I mean, the kitchen I have is functional, but only barely.  There is no joy in cooking in it mostly because I am claustrophobic and an extravert. The space is both extremely tight and closed off from the rest of the house.

So, just to prove to myself that we had made the right decision about the flat, I went out in search of the one that we rejected.  As it turns out, it is only about six blocks from here.  As I ventured down the high street, I got the same depressed feeling I had back in August.  There were empty shops and a noticeably high number of gambling outlets.  There were only a few restaurants and I did not see any of the usual sidewalk vendors for fresh fruit and vegetables.  The sidewalks were almost vacant.  I continued past the street where I had been tempted to live, and three more blocks up, there it stood.  Asda.  While the open market vendors in Central London had been successful in warding off the empire, the locals in Battersea had not, and the effects were quite evident.  People were streaming out of the doors and boarding the buses that stopped just in front. The parking lot was full, but the store fronts on the high street were empty.  While I was glad to have our choice of flats confirmed, I am sad for Europe that they seem to be following in our misguided footsteps where price is the final deciding factor and a way of life that defines a community is threatened.

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