Just a week after the former Redwoodtown SuperValue has completed a green transformation from a locally owned franchise into yet another arm of the Australasian corporate, Progressive Enterprises, it has been announced that Springlands Fresh Choice will suffer the same fate.
From the perspective of the owners, sale to Progressive Enterprises makes a lot of sense, but it's not so good for consumers. From the owners' point of view selling up in a tough economic climate provides some quick cash, and in the case of Fresh Choice the former supermarket operator continues to collect rent on the building. However, while the Super Value and Fresh Choice brands are part of the Progressive Enterprises franchise, they are locally owned and operated, and have the ability to distinguish themselves in various ways. Springlands Fresh Choice in particular offers an outstanding assortment of beers and wines and also quite a good selection of gourmet foods not found elsewhere. The former Redwood Super Value was not bad either, even though it was a smaller supermarket.
Back in the bad old days, Blenheim was a sleepy rural outpost lacking much of the sophistication of larger centres. There was always beer, sure, but variety wasn't exactly a strong point, and wine, well there were one or two specialist shops and it was expensive. Food was also pretty basic fare.
While the conversion of Super Value and Fresh Choice won't be a return to the bad old days, there is a real risk that the selection will reduce. Yes there'll always be plenty of wine and beer, but most likely what sells the most, which probably means cheap. If you enjoy the occasional luxury of the premium stuff, you may find one of the pure liquor stores that sells top shelf stuff may be your only option. Of course after years of lost sales to supermarkets, this may be a welcome boost for those stores. On the other hand, there's a risk consumers will settle for the cheap stuff as it's all too easy to grab while you buy your groceries.
This is terrible news for the local wine industry that's already taken a hammering, and it's not good for the community either. Buying less volume but more expensive premium wine and beer is better for producers, but also reduces the risk of alcohol abuse, as if consumers have to think twice about cost, hopefully they're more likely to be purchasing to enjoy responsibly than to get drunk, as drunkenness will simply hit them too hard in the pocket.
Of course the issue isn't only about alcohol, it's also about food, but in this case at least perhaps there is a solution. Alcohol is a bit of an issue due to liquor licensing laws, but food is already sold successfully at the local Farmers' Market. Unfortunately not everyone can make it to the Farmers' Market on Sundays, some due to church committments, or other activities. Many towns and cities in different parts of the world hold daily markets selling local produce, and there's no reason why that shouldn't happen in Blenheim. Of course not all retailers will be happy, but mostly they don't sell the same stuff that stallholders do, and council may be able to come up with some levy for stallholders that is not excessive, but helps contribute to the upkeep of the CBD. In order to avoid conflict with the fundrasing efforts of Rotary with their Saturday car boot sale market, the main market could run Monday to Friday.
Having a daily market could add considerably to the tourist appeal of Blenheim. Instead of people having to be in town during one of the festivals, people passing through at any time could find something of interest, and people with goods to sell, but not on a large enough scale to justify the cost of a full scale regular retail option could still play an active role in economic activity. With an appropriate location, a permanent market could help contribute to coucil's stated aim to maintain the focus on the CBD.
Progressive Enterprises move doesn't actually look all that progressive for Blenheim, but at the end of the day, it may encourage progress in a totally different direction.