Are big chains forcing out the independent stores on campus?


I’ve just returned to Lancaster following a year abroad in France. This has already entailed a slight culture shock, and I’m only a few days in. I recently popped onto campus to catch up with friends and was immediately struck by the changes made since I left last June, particularly the closure of the newsagents, whose replacement is WHSmith.

It’s a real shame in my opinion. The independent retailer defeated by the retailer which achieved a revenue of £1.2 million last year, a figure the newsagents could probably have only ever dreamed of. Likewise, Diggles has been replaced with another eatery and Subway has also opened providing competition to our Colleges. Campus is being invaded by the big names, and I doubt much of a thought is being given to the poor independents who are suffering as a result.

While these changes are all great and provide a much more convenient lifestyle for the Lancaster student, I can’t help but question whether the big chains are really a good thing. Whenever possible, I would have always opted to buy stationary or cards from the newsagents or LUSU, because it was independent from the high-street contenders such as Spar or the larger brands in town.

Coming from a rural background, I’ve always tried to support local and individual businesses rather than heading to the big brands which nearly always offer cheaper prices; it’s almost engrained in me. Now, however, this isn’t an option on campus. There are next to no independent stores to support aside from the hairdressers and ice cream parlour, which is a real disappointment.

I can understand the desire for big name brands to some extent; students are bound to go to the renowned retailer as it’s got a name for itself and can support their student budget far better instead of the independent and slightly out-of-date looking store, which only offers a more expensive and reduced selection of products. But I think there’s something quite quaint about that.

All of this follows the controversial closure of Waterstones back in 2011 which was thankfully not totally downtrodden by the online giant, Amazon, and has been replaced by Blackwells (a very sad version of Blackwells, might I add.) While this is not a story of the independent bookshop being replaced, it is the story of the tornado of new-world retailing gradually picking off the old world, bit by bit. Not to mention the issue that Subway is posing against the College Bars, particularly Bowland because of Subway’s location.

The refreshing culture change I experienced when living in France was the fact independent shops have been maintained. Every corner had an independent bakery, butcher, grocery, bookshop etc. While the chains exist, the local shops around the corner are still supported by their locals – something we Brits are failing to do more and more.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s great that Lancaster can attract such large names onto campus. Yet the Lancaster University I have returned to is nowhere near the same as the one I left or joined as a fresher way back when. Had I joined now, with such a high street presence on campus, I would whole-heartedly have appreciated it. However, since I remember the old-fashioned way with the independent retailers that are now but a distant memory (for some, they’re probably not even that), I miss it. It may just me being nostalgic now that I recognise no-one from campus, reiterating the fast approaching and daunting reality of The Real World after university, but I think it’s the effect of the countryside upbringing and my new-found support for independents following my year abroad.

Regardless of the reason, the big names are taking over. Long gone are the days of being able to support your locals; campus no longer offers that choice. So please, please, next time you’re peckish and fancy a sarny, don’t make a visit to Subway or Greggs. Represent the independents and grab a bite from a bar. You’ll regret it when they no longer offer it.

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