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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007, 10:07 GMT
Abergavenny's supermarket dilemma
By David Sillito
BBC News

It's Saturday morning.

Controversy is brewing in Abergavenny

On one side of the High Street there is a silent vigil by the 'women in black against domestic violence' on the other side two street preachers are offering irrefutable evidence of the physical existence of Hell.

In between there is a throng of shoppers.

Abergavenny is a lively and apparently thriving place but some shopkeepers are worried because they fear up to a third of their business may disappear.

Asda wants to move in to the town and it's divided the local population.


Shopkeepers have set up Sauce (save Abergavenny's unique character and environment) while there's also a sizeable group who want Asda to set up shop in the town.

I went shopping with Ashleigh and her three children to get a taste of what shopping is like here.

Family shopping
Ashleigh finds High Street shops difficult to access

She likes the feel of the town, the character and the friendliness but she would prefer the cheap children's clothes, baby changing facilities and convenience of a large supermarket.

On our trip she couldn't get her pram in to the bakers, the shoe shop was twice the price of Asda, the choice of clothes for her teenage daughter was limited and it took about two hours to do what you can accomplish in 30 minutes in a supermarket.

"I really want Asda, I'm a single mum and don't have a car." "I can do everything in one place and it's so much cheaper."

Ashleigh appreciates local character but she appreciates cost and convenience even more.

Old cobblers

Then down the street is a sight that has almost entirely disappeared from British life. Keith Francis is a cobbler, so too was his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather.

His family moved in to his little shop in 1929 and nothing much has changed since then.

He even gets customers from London who want their shoes to be repaired by a traditional cobbler.

And he also makes bespoke shoes, but they can be a bit pricey; a first pair with a new last can cost more than fifteen hundred pounds.

Will tradition die at the hands of convenience?

If you want tradition then Keith's shop is it. Asda wouldn't do much to his business but he doesn't want them.

"It's not the right place. They want to build on the cattle market. I think if you lose that site it'll affect the character of the place."

"I can go anywhere but I choose to be here.." he adds.

And that's a big part of this argument.


Travel around Britain and it's repeated over and over.

Whether it's Driffield in East Yorkshire or Sheringham in Norfolk, there are campaigns to stop the supermarkets in order to preserve a place's character as much as its economy.

I'd love to support local shop keepers, but they don't support me!
Russ James, Nottingham

The desire to have attractive shops to wander past has as much to do with social life as it does shopping.

The problem is that many of the vocal supporters of characterful local shops find themselves all too often shopping in the malls and supermarkets.

The question is, should it be a council's duty to protect the look and feel of a place or look after the needs of those who would be better off with cheaper and more convenient shopping?

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