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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Robot corner shop arrives
The vending machines will be open 24 hours a day
The man who wants to bring 50 giant vending machines to the north east says it is the answer to the disappearance of the local corner shop.

Shoppers in Darlington can now choose to use the automated machine which stocks 150 lines of essential items, from bread and milk to condoms, and is open 24 hours a day.

Local businessman Sandy Douglas has brought the idea over from Belgium.

"We're going to replace the corner shops that have disappeared," he said.

"Over the last seven years corner shops have been shutting down a lot and they've been left empty.

"So hopefully we are going to put these in on the door step of demand so people can buy their products without getting into their car."

Corner shops are closing at an alarming rate, some 30,000 have closed over the last six or seven years
Peter Drury, FSB

The vending machine is installed next to a traditional corner shop and Mr Douglas says people use it even when the shop is open.

There are now two in Darlington, which he says will increase to five. If they prove successful he hopes eventually to install up to 50 in the north east.

But Peter Drury of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says the idea could spell the end of the corner shop.

"They are closing at an alarming rate, some 30,000 have closed over the last six or seven years," he said.

"I'm sure there is a role (for the vending machine). The great pity is that corner shops are the corner stones of a lot of local communities and what we are seeing is ghost town Britain...and the corner shops are unfortunately dying."

The BBC's Richard Wells
"This must be the biggest vending machine you have ever seen"

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