The Co-operative stores

Isle of Wight Observer April 1 1882

I believe one gentleman hit the right nail on the head at the meeting on Tuesday week, when he attributed the depression which exists here in a great measure to the co-operative stores. A tradesman showed me his book one day, and pointed out houses which he used to supply, the extent of whose requirements now amounted to a pennyworth of salt, or any other comestible the occupants happened at times to be out of. The result is that, though the grand houses in the town and its neighbourhood are more numerous than ever, the shops are closing one after the other in that part of the town where the gentry most do congregate. It is found more profitable to cater for the million than for gentry. I have little doubt that by an extension of the co-operative system it would be easy to supply this town from one huge store and at prices which no one could touch, and so do away with the little army of shop keepers. Whether it will ever come to this I cannot say, but many who carry on certain trades tell me it becomes increasingly difficult to make the proverbial two ends meet. There are certain trades, which, of course, co-operation can never touch – the butcher, the baker and the greengrocer – but all dry goods tradespeople are certainly suffering. I frequently hear interesting and characteristic anecdotes about the stores. A lady went into a greengrocer’s and bought fruit and vegetables. The shopkeeper asked her if she required certain articles he happened to have in stock not quite so perishable in their nature as the fruit. Her reply was “Thanks, no. I get them from the co-operative stores.” The tradesman was rather nettled and replied, “I suppose you would have all the rest there if you could get it?” “I should indeed,” candidly replied the lady, “and my bread, fruit and meat too, if I could get them there”. Really ladies should not, when they go to shops, make such remarks or invidious comparisons, which are calculated to hurt tradespeople’s feelings. But the most cruel, unkindest cut of all, was perpetrated in a certain shop in Cross-street, and the interesting incident, as described to me by the tradesman, was almost good enough forPunch.  Two young gentlemen came into the shop, and one of them asked to look at an expensive dressing case in the window. With pleased alacrity the tradesman, at some considerable trouble and inconvenience, got it out of his window and eloquently expatiated on its merits, good workmanship, &c. The two young gentlemen examined it attentively. “Do you like it, Percy?” said one. “Yes, Harry, I do, very much.” “Very well, then, I’ll get you one like it from the stores”. You may very safely bet that the countenance of that tradesman – sold instead of selling, poor fellow – as he showed those persons the door, did not wear such an amiable expression as when they entered. Although I sympathised with the tradesman in this instance, I could not help laughing “most consumedly” after he had told me. However there is little to laugh at with many of our tradespeople. They really are not doing what they ought, or sufficient to enable them to meet their many expenses.  I certainly think those who live in the town should spend their money in the town, and so try to make it look gay and prosperous instead of dull and depressed.

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