For the past year, The Grocer has kept a watching brief on Tesco’s store in Hove to monitor the impact that the retail giant’s entry has on the local traders and what it means for the community. Amy Balchin gives the final verdict

When a Tesco superstore comes to town, it is inevitably going to have a huge impact on the community. And that is exactly what we have found since we began to chart how the lives of local shoppers and traders have been changed by the 37,000 sq ft store in Church Road, Hove, which opened in August 2003.

We have documented the fears of neighbouring traders, many believing their businesses could not survive the arrival of such a retailing juggernaut, nor the loss of a nearby car park. We reported on how their sales first took a dive and then, as time went on, the imaginative ideas they put into practice to reclaim their customers and attract new ones.

Tesco’s state-of-the-art technology delighted many of its new customers and they told us so, while others treated it with suspicion and said they were off to shop at the co-op, as usual.

But the vast majority of shoppers told us the store was just what Hove needed and praised the standard of the products and its service - an attitude that was also reflected by the local business association, which took the view that such a high profile retailer could only be good for trade because of the extra footfall it would pull into the town.

Now, in our final visit, we find out whether shoppers are still flocking to the store now that the novelty has worn off and whether local traders have come to terms with the competition. We also put some of their concerns directly to store manager Darren Hunter. It is immediately evident that shoppers are still happy with the store and its hi-tech advances such as shelf-edge labelling, self-scanning tills and panoramic CCTV cameras.The fact that 35,000 of them pass through its doors every week is testament to that satisfaction.

Although Tesco was reluctant to provide trading figures, this figure reflects an increase in footfall of 6% since our last report on the store in February.

Store manager Darren Hunter says Tesco offers a service the area had been crying out for and that the additional shoppers have made Hove a “busy, bustling place”.

However, many local traders remain unhappy at Tesco’s presence. Some anecdotal reports claim turnover has slumped by as much as 50% for some traders, although none has gone out of business. Almost all have seen a significant drop in footfall, but insist they are learning to live with Tesco on their doorstep as a result of customer loyalty, by playing to their strengths and adapting their offer.

Robert Heath, proprietor of St Aubyn’s Newsagent, has seen trade fall, particularly in what used to be busy late afternoons.

By far the biggest aggravation, however, is not the extra competition but the lack of car parking space.

Tesco occupies part of what used to be a 100-space surface pay and display car park, which has been reduced to 30 spaces. Shoppers must pay a £25 fine if they overstay their two-hour limit (for £5) on the 336-space Tesco car park.

Keith Bryden, Hove Business Association chairman and owner of Bryden’s DIY, says feelings are still running high. “We are not anti-Tesco or anti-development. The only issue we have is parking.”

This issue is also raised by Ramesh Shah, proprietor of Blatchington Road Post Office, who says his customers comment on the lack of parking facilities.

Each of them, like other local traders, would like to see Tesco extend the time limit to three hours and for the fee to be comparable to that charged locally (metered parking in Blatchington Road and Church Road costs £1 for two hours). They would also like to see the £25 penalty charge relaxed.

However, Hunter defends the store’s right to reserve spaces for its customers. He says: “Two hours for £5 is comparable to surrounding facilities and customers say two hours is adequate to shop in store then visit other shops in the area. The £25 charge is to prevent abuse.”

Other concerns have emerged since our first report. Mark Mulholland, managing director of Mulholland’s off-licence, says he has lost trade since a bus stop was moved from further up the road and put outside his shop to accommodate Tesco customers. This has made it impossible for drivers to draw up, park and drop into his shop.

Hunter is keen to point out that this was not a Tesco decision. “This was a matter for the council - it was not instigated by Tesco.” He insists Tesco is not out to make life difficult for the local community but to integrate with it.

One year after its arrival, local retailers are not convinced - but they are resigned.

As Heath puts it: “We will just have to live with it.”

What the traders say
>>View from the sharp end

Claire Frampton
Manager of the Co-op store, Blatchingdon Road

"There was a significant drop in sales initially, as we expected. However, we recovered a satisfactory proportion and sales have stabilised.

"We are unhappy about the parking situation as there is no question that the limited amount of parking has had an impact on all the stores in the area. We have made no significant changes in our store, it is trading well and we are considering a re-fit."

Keith Bryden
Business Association chairman and owner of Bryden's DIY

"In general we need a large multiple to bring people to the area and we were happy with that. It is the way Tesco has not worked with the local business community - it is just working for itself.

"It can't carry on like this; we have lost 100 public car parking spaces. My own sales do not seem to have been greatly affected but footfall is down about 20%. Others are worse off.

"We are not anti-Tesco to anti-development. The only issue we have is the parking. There is a shortage of public spaces in the area and there are spaces at Tesco - those spaces should be utilised."

Mark Mulholland
Managing director of Mulholland's off-licence

"Our main grievance is the parking. We have lost our early evening trade - people coming home want to pull over and stop but they cannot. Since the bus stop was moved to make way for Tesco there is nowhere for people to park, so people whiz straight on. Of course, the nearest place is Tesco.

"We thought it might bring people back into the area and that it would help us, but initially trade was down. We are gradually building it up again and we are planning a major refit in the new year."

Ramesh Shah
Blatchington Road Past Office

"It has affected us greatly. Things have been better since the post office in Church Road closed - we are busy but customer numbers are down.But if the other post office is opened again, it will get worse.

"Car parking is the problem - so many people complain about it. If they opened the Tesco car park to other shoppers that would be better."

Rob Heath
St Aubyn's Newsagent

"As a town, people are worried about car parking. I am concerned about competition from Tesco but think we can survive. We will just have to live with it"