Westminster Grocery: ‘We didn’t ask our customers to appeal on our behalf, but they did’
“On Sunday mornings you can hear the chime of Big Ben, but can you imagine if Sainsbury’s move in? It’ll be a delivery driver yelling or clashing metal t
Bharti Chavda is referring to the possibility of Sainsbury’s flexing its orange and white muscles less than 200 metres away. Bharti and her husband Kiran, who run a small store in the centre of London, have been lucky so far. When the supermarket giant first tried to open it was faced with more than 500 customers writing to the council on the shop’s behalf.
Bharti & Kiran Chavda
Westminster Grocery, London
Hours: 6.30am-7pm Mon–Sat, 6.30am-2pm Sun
Trading since: December 1981
Size: 500sq ft
Staff: Husband and wife team
Style: An independent grocery store nestled in a growing, affluent residential area of London. Apart from the looming threat of a potential Sainsbury’s, there are no nearby competitors.
“The local residents were incredible,” Bharti says. “Only the attorney could speak on their behalf, but their voice was heard through their letters.”
However, the fight isn’t over yet as Sainsbury’s made an appeal against the rejection in June. The Chavdas say the company is using “sneaky tactics” because residents are likely to be on holiday and gathering troops won’t be easy. Bharti adds that the appeal form being difficult to find on the City of Westminster website also hasn’t helped.
“There were constant complaints from customers because they couldn’t access the website. We didn’t ask them to appeal but they did – we’ll hear back later this year,” she says.
“All I know is that if they open we’ll lose a lot of trade.”
Since the Chavdas took over the store from Bharti’s father in 1981, they’ve expanded it to make it their own. The local community has also changed hugely over the past 34 years.
They’ve had to keep up with London’s extortionate rent hikes, which have forced lower income residents out and welcomed foreign investors in.
“The council houses across the road used to have bathtubs in the kitchen, no one would touch them,” she says. “Now a two-bedroom council flat is being sold for over £500,000 by people that are happy to leave it empty. It’s really affecting local businesses.”
These absent residents, similar to the onslaught of multiple grocers, are forcing independents out. But she is determined to remain by being product and price savvy.
When visiting Booker, she buys products that are on offer in bulk to ensure she can pass the savings on to customers. The couple focus on offering the basics at cheap prices, particularly price-marked tobacco and toilet roll.
“No one wants to pay premium for everyday products,” she says. “It’s taken me a while to learn about buying wisely, but I can now say that we are the cheapest in the area.”
However, she ensures that she offers top-range products as well. Throughout her store, customers have the choice of premium jams, high-end magazines and coffee as well as everyday choices – to cater for every wallet.
To shout about the shop’s offers, and with the help of a customer that works in social media, Bharti’s recently taken to Twitter to promote the store and connect with other retailers.
“I wasn’t used to social media, but I was given some great pointers and we want to use it to let potential customers know that we’re here – especially if Sainsbury’s opens up.”
Continue for a full gallery of Westminster Grocery and tips from Bharti
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