Big store shuts its rural rivals

A supermarket has been accused of trying to monopolise trading in Northumberland towns and villages by buying up competing stores and closing them down.

Councillor Peter Dawson outside the Spar shop in Rothbury

A supermarket has been accused of trying to monopolise trading in Northumberland towns and villages by buying up competing stores and closing them down.

Earlier this year, the Co-op in Rothbury bought the village's only other supermarket, a Spar, and next month the store will be closed in what is described as a "tremendous loss" for residents.

Similar incidents have also happened in Wooler, Belford and Seahouses, with the Co-op putting up the acquired premises to let - but only under condition that the store must not compete with the Co-op.

District councillor for Rothbury, Peter Dawson, said that while the Co-op had not broken any rules, closing down the competition was not in the best interests of people living in Rothbury.

He said: "In rural areas, the Co-op are apparently trying to dominate the market place.

"They have purchased the Spar in order to close it down in July.

"That will mean that they are the only supermarket in Rothbury, which means they have carte blanche to fix any price that they wish in the shop.

"It means that the people who cannot get out of the village will have no choice but to pay these prices. It is unfair."

A Co-op spokesman said: "It is our understanding that the Spar was not trading well and its future was uncertain.

"The owners of the Spar approached the Co-operative group, requesting that we buy the business.

"We were able to do so and are delighted to have secured the employment of the staff."

But Coun Dawson said: "It concerns me that it could become the only large shop in Rothbury.

"It will be a tremendous loss for the village."

Shopper Steve Jamieson, who was visiting the Spar store from nearby Harbottle, said: "I don't use either store very often, although I have come to the Spar today because the queues to get served are shorter.

"But it is not good news for the elderly people or those who haven't got transport to do their shopping."

Berwick-upon-Tweed MP Alan Beith said he had already raised the issue with senior management at the Co-op and he said the moves were "unacceptable".

Borough councillor for Belford Geoff O'Connell said the situation in Rothbury mirrored that in Belford, where the Spar was shut down last year, leaving only the Co-op for shoppers.

He said: "It appears that in small village communities, they are buying up the opposition and closing them down to create a monopoly for themselves.

"I am seriously alarmed at this development and, if it is true, it flies in the face of the Co-op's fair trade policy."

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Normal practice, say bosses

The supermarket accused of attempting to monopolise trade in Northumberland towns says the moves are "normal industry practice".

A Co-op spokesman said: "The Co-operative Group has acquired the Spar in Rothbury for an undisclosed sum.

"The Spar will close on Saturday, July 7, and 11 employees will transfer their employment to the Co-op.

"The owner of the building where the Spar has been trading will seek a new tenant but a restriction will be in place that it cannot be used as a supermarket, convenience store or off-licence. This is normal industry practice.

"We are sure local shoppers will be delighted to learn that we intend to invest £100,000 in our store on Rothbury's High Street later this year, to provide a wider choice of goods and even better value with more promotional offers.

"We look forward to continuing to serve the community of Rothbury and complementing other food retailers in the village.

"Furthermore, in the best traditions of the Co-op, the store will play its part in community life.

"In Seahouses and Belford, the situations were similar. The Co-operative Group acquired the Londis and Spar respectively following approaches from both the businesses' owners and again, staff transferred their employment to the Co-op.

"The closure of the Wooler Co-op store resulted from the Co-operative Group acquiring the Alldays chain of 600 branches in 2002. As the group owned both the Alldays and the Co-op store on the High Street, it made good business sense to combine the businesses and operate out of one unit. The group, therefore, closed the Co-op store and transferred the staff to the Alldays unit.

"The Co-operative group is owned and democratically controlled by its members, who are its shoppers. It is committed to providing quality products at value-for-money prices and its shopper members can also benefit from its share of profits scheme, which rewards customers of all its businesses for their custom."

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