Proposed changes to the Co-op supermarket in Lerwick, including the replacement of the cafe with a clothes shop and installation of self-service checkouts, were discussed on Wednesday evening.
Around 30 folk attended a Northern Scotland & Islands Area Committee meeting of the Co-operative Society, which is celebrating 150 years this year, at Islesburgh house in Lerwick.
Among those present were lord lieutenant Bobby Hunter and former councillor Leonard Groat, to name but a few. As folk entered they had to show their membership cards.
The Co-operative, which has a large presence in the isles with branches in Lerwick and Brae, is unique among supermarkets in being owned by its members and having an ethical policy. But since the arrival of Tesco, rumoured to have an 80 per cent share of the retail market in Shetland, it has like local businesses struggled to compete.
There has been disquiet locally with proposed changes to the store and a perceived run down of service. Management for the local store has been seen to be remote. Public relations, for example, is run from Manchester.
Present from the Scottish mainland were regional democratic services manager Tom Copland and area food retail manager Steve Stewart, to take the flack along with local representatives Alvis Gill-Merrall and Mick Clifton, who were wearing their “ask me, I’m an elected member” badges.
The officials said they wanted “a genuine conversation” and were “bringing integrity to commerce”. We were informed that the Lerwick store was in fact one of their bigger stores – most of the others are just convenience ones in the region
Vic Thomas, a former elected member, was first to ask about the availability of electrical goods. He was told we were “disadvantaged by geographical location”.
Mr Thomas went on to question the ethical credentials of Edinburgh Woollen Mill which now owns Peacocks, poised to open a clothes shop in the former cafe by the first week in December.
As to the closure of the cafe Mr Stewart said it had for some time been subsidised and running at a loss, the kitchen was in need of refurbishment and needed upgrading. It was not financially viable to go forward with and also it was not good to have a “greasy spoon cafe” when the Co-op was promoting healthy eating, although he said he “personally” was not happy with the closing.
Next it was the turn of Mr Hunter to lambast the Co-op locally. He thought we were just being given excuses. He had no criticism of local staff but thought the whole management system “crap” and everyone was “going to the other side of town, you’re getting worse”.
But there was some good news. The roof was going to be relaid, 250 new trollies were coming, the pot holes in the car park were to be filled and automatic self-service checkouts were hopefully arriving too.
• More from the meeting in this week’s Shetland Times.