Like many towns of its size, Hamilton has had a tough time through the recession. Its 50,000 population is served by a necessarily large number of convenience stores – but most of those are feeling the pinch too.
by Kevin Scott
The South Lanarkshire town of Hamilton is like many on the outskirts of Glasgow. It manages to have a personality of its own while remaining inextricably linked to the city that dwarves it – many of its residents travel to Glasgow for work, shopping and entertainment, and it is this that has led Hamilton’s town centre to fall into decline. The once busy pedestrianised streets have fallen quiet for the most part, though a large Marks & Spencer ensures locals do still use the town centre. Like many towns and cities, it is on the outskirts of Hamilton that local pounds are spent. On the northerly tip of the town, close to the M74, an Asda superstore with adequate parking has been luring consumer, while a leisure complex that includes a cinema has also worked against the town centre. A further development of the Douglas Park area – which is home to the town’s football team Hamilton Academicals – has seen a Sainsbury’s open along with other retail outlets such as JJB Sports.
Locals may enjoy these facilities but perhaps it is only when there is a giant hole in the heart of the town that they’ll wonder what’s become of its past. In fact, Hamilton is one of the best (if that’s the right word) examples of how not to modernise a town.
But local retail isn’t confined to a town centre and with a population of 50,000 spread across a large geographical area, Hamilton has no shortage of shops. They too are finding matters difficult. Many smaller shops have closed thanks to the looming shadow of Asda and Sainsbury’s while others have said that the mood in the town is reflected in takings at the till.
Babi Aggarwal, who runs a Londis shop near the town centre says: “There seems to be a terminal decline in Hamilton. If you go through the town centre it’s very quiet. Marks & Spencer is still there, but beyond that there’s not much left. We’re quieter this year. We’re not exactly worried about things, but need to be careful about what we’re ordering.”
To that end, retailers are having to work harder than ever to stand still. It’s symptomatic of the problems the town faces overall, and Hamilton’s residents and planning officials will soon have to face up to the fact that if they want a town they can continue to be proud in, they will have to invest in local businesses.
With a large Londis store not far from the town centre of Hamilton, Narinder Aggarwal is well-placed to comment on the state of play in the town where she’s plied her trade for the last seven years. Known to friends and customers as Babi, she’s quick to lament the way trade in Hamilton has been over the last year: “It’s not very good, frankly,” she says. “There’s been a real dip this year; basket spend is down, footfall is down.”
The issue is not one confined to Babi’s store either: “When I speak to other businesses in the area it’s the same conversation about how we’re all struggling. It doesn’t help that we don’t have parking outside, but that’s not a new problem. People are happy to drive to the big Asda – it’s not that big a town. They’ll get a bigger bill in Asda but they’re doing a full shop, and it’s difficult for us match those prices, though we do try.”
The shop is surrounded by local businesses that Babi relies on, and when they’re spending less, it’s noticeable. “We’re noticing them spending less. But the things they do buy keep us going – soft drinks and confectionery for example.”
And then there are the off-trade sales, which play a hugely important role in the shop. “We’re doing well on wine at the moment,” says Babi. “Most of what we sell is on promotion, and we ensure we’ve got that well advertised.”
Babi admits that in the last year she’s had to be more careful about what she is ordering, and she hopes that more of the spending in the shop in the evenings spread through the day. “We see people spending more money at night. When they’re out enjoying themselves or on the way home they worry less about what they’re spending.”
There are a couple of Scotmids in Hamilton, which is no surprise given the history of Botterills Convenience Stores in the South Lanarkshire area – a company which sold out to Scotmid in recent years. This store, in the south side of the town, is far enough away from the town centre to be immune to the effects of its demise. In fact, according to store manager Stacey Traquar, the shop is actually up year-on-year so there is at least some good news to come out of Hamilton. “We’re in a very good position,” says Stacey. “We’re between a bookmakers and a restaurant, so it’s a busy part of the street.” It’s a densely populated area too, so when Stacey took over the store in May of this year – moving from Scotmid’s Cleland shop – she was surprised at just how busy it was.
“The shop was already doing well before I arrived, but since then we’ve put an increased focus into fresh food and that’s led to increase in basket spend as people recognise they can do a bigger shop in a smaller store,” she says.
Then there’s the addition of a Costa Coffee unit. Stacey says: “People use the coffee machine on a regular basis. I think they prefer it because they know and trust that brand.”