by Kevin Scott
It is one of the most famous towns in the world thanks to its golf courses, but beyond the tourism there lies a residential town like any other that relies on local retailers to ensure the community keeps moving.
If you ask 100 people to name something related to St Andrews, 100 of them will say golf. And rightly so; the Old Course is the most famous 18 holes in the world, and every five years it plays host to The Open, when the world’s eyes turn on the town. Aside from that, the European Tour visits every year for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and hundreds of thousands of golfers take to the town’s seven golf courses.
Beyond all that though, this is a town with a population of around 17,000 – driven in part by an ancient and prestigious university. And with all that comes a community. St Andrews remains an affluent town. Its town centre is awash with independent retailers and restaurants and in summer months it bustles with vibrancy as the excited tones of scores of languages float through the air.
One thing missing from the town centre however is a convenience store – although a Tesco Express is there, and a Sainsbury’s Local is in the midst of being fitted out. One shop that does thrive is Luviens, a former SLR Awards winner in the specialist off-licence category. Peter Wood, from Luviens says the shop is quieter than last year, which he puts down to both a fall in tourist numbers and changing buying habits among locals.
“The town is changing, we’ve got fewer independents now, more chains. A Sainsbury’s is opening across from us. It might not effect us today, but in five years, when there are fewer independent businesses, it can’t not effect us,” says Peter.
Peter believes the local council could do more to encourage new indies to open, with the sort of tax breaks given to charity shops: “Local businesses need incentives to open, and help getting through the first two years.”
South of the town centre and away from the tourist areas there lies a town pretty much like many others in Fife, with 60s semi-detached housing served by a smattering of c-stores, including Douglas Barr and Michelle Kyle’s post office. Still serving strictly as a post office, the only FMCG goods on sale are a small range of soft drinks and confectionery. However, being in the top 500 post offices in the UK means Michelle has been blessed with the full range of Olympic stamps issued by Royal Mail with every Gold medal won at last month’s Olympics. “It’s the busiest I can remember us being,” she says. “We’ve even been opening on Sundays to sell the stamps from medal winners from the Saturday. In 20 years there’s been nothing like this.”
This is great news for sales in the post office, but does it offer a falsely inflated view of things? “Not really. St Andrews maybe isn’t as busy as it has been, but the caravan parks continue to fill up and as we’re familiar to regular visitors we’ve been busy. Every town has been affected by the recession though.”
This Spar store in the south of the town, safely ensconced away from the tourist hub of the town centre, has changed hands in recent years having been part of the AM Lansdburgh estate that was sold to CJ Lang in April 2011. These days the store is managed by David Soffeitti who says that the store is performing well enough – as is the town. “St Andrews hasn’t been immune to the outside forces of the recession, it’s been difficult, but the town hasn’t had it as bad as some places.”
In terms of local competition for David’s store, there is the ever-looming threat of multiples, and he mentions a nearby Aldi extending its opening hours as being of concern, along with the expansion of a Morrisons store.
“We’re more residential here so don’t get too much of the tourist trade,” he says. “We do benefit from the students though as well as workers. We’re performing well enough.”
Recent changes in the store include listings for local produce from Stuarts – whose selection of baked savoury goods such as pies and sausage rolls, lie appetisingly in a hot counter at the till point. “We’ve been shifting loads in the four months since we started selling them,” says David. He also cites sandwich and evening meal deals as an extra revenue driver.
One interesting aspect of the store is that its fresh produce sales are lower than in other parts of Spar’s estate – but David puts this down to the strength of the nearby Aldi, proving that no matter where a local retailer is situated, the threat of larger stores is always present. That’s not to be negative however, as David says: “We’ve had a good summer and we’re trading well.”
Much like CJ Lang’s Spar store, Anila Anwar’s Costcutter is surrounded by residential housing in the south side of the town, and therefore does a busy trade. Anila and her husband bought the store from her father-in-law eight years ago. “Business is going well,” she says. “And it’s gone better since we joined Costcutter in 2011.”
Previously the store had carried a Premier fascia, but Anila says she felt the offer from Costcutter was better suited to the store. “Sales have gone up because availability has improved,” she adds.
This is the definition of a friendly neighbourhood store – the playful interaction with staff and customers shows a store that is frequented by regulars who they treat as more than just customers. There’s genuinely a warm atmosphere inside, and that’s down to the staff.
As for the town itself, Amila says it’s doing just fine. “St Andrews is a bit different. We have supermarkets but it’s not like we’ve been swamped by Tesco.” That means that customers will continue to use their local store, and when they’re as friendly as this one, that’s good for the business and good for the community.