I Blame The Fridge

A bumbling opinion.

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Change is a fact of life and Chatsworth Road is no exception, some old traditional businesses have disappeared recently and you know what I think is to blame. The fridge.

Now bear with me on this.

To see where this starts you need to go back to a time before there were white electric powered boxes in the kitchen to keep all our food conveniently fresh. It was the early 1900s when the first vapour compression refrigeration was invented, but it wasn’t until 1913 that the first domestic fridge was sold (according to Wikipedia).

So what did we do before? When we moved into our house the previous owner didn’t have a fridge. In the cupboard under the stairs was a cold store. Just below ground level there was a cupboard with a few shelves, a single skin brick to the back wall and a metal mesh door. This kept food cool, not as cold as the fridge but cooler than room temperature … and this was just 14 years ago.

Before the fridge, people would have to shop more frequently and when they did, they did it locally, a walk to the butchers, then the grocers, milk or dairy from the milkman, not a supermarket in sight. 1913 was a time when people didn’t have cars either so to get to the local shops they’d walk … (there might be a sharabang).

People didn’t have to walk far as every mile or two there would a collection of local businesses all doing well, all knowing there customers by name, although they might have known me as Mr Chapman – not Paul! In the process of walking around the community you’d bump into the neighbours doing the same thing, you’d talk, get to know them, their children and in doing so would create a sense of community. If little Jack or Jill was misbehaving you’d have a word, threaten them with telling their parents – people knew each other.

I don’t know whether we’re a bit unique in our street, there are 35 houses on the cul-de-sac and I reckon we know the names of 32 families. People do know each other, we’ve had a few street ‘get togethers’ and it’s a great way to get to know the neighbours, after all we have to share the space, its not intrusive, no pressures are put on people but it’s comforting to know a bit about the people on your doorstep.

So back to the Fridge. In 1913 along came the first domestic refrigerator and I reckon that was the first nail in the coffin of community. Now we don’t need to go out every day, we can go once a week, buy in bulk, store things for longer, not a bad thing I know but chances are we stopped bumping into each other so much. The roll out of the fridge took quite a few years, and as we know, some people still survived without one into the 21st century.

The fridge helped stores too, products for sale could be stored longer, the size of the weekly shop increased. I remember as a young lad going weekly, Thursday night I think it was, with my parents to a large old cinema that operated as a supermarket in Nottingham to load up what seemed like a massive trolley for the coming week, stuffing it into the boot of the Vauxhall Viva and driving home.  It was perhaps a few years later that the supermarket chains started to appear and dominate the high streets.  This was all good for Mum and Dad, a single trip each week and everything in one place.  Not so good for the markets, greengrocers, butchers, bakers, milkmen etc. People stopped buying from them so often and the pain started to be felt, nail number two.

Next the internet arrived. Excellent we all thought, and perhaps still do, all this information at our fingertips and pumped into the house at amazing speeds (I still can’t get my head around the speed that data can get to us down those old twisted pair cables). Businesses looked to the web and how they could get more products to us, supermarkets offering us click and collect options, which very soon could be delivered to our door! Now I have no need to leave the house to fill the fridge up! There are even fridges who reorder for you now, perhaps they could eat it for me too!

The problem is also that large businesses have the upper hand digitally too, they can invest in the people and the technology to make internet shopping quick and easy, they can pay to get to the top of a search engine’s results and be more easily found – it’s just not a level playing field.

Today the internet allows us to order and receive goods direct, to work remotely, to watch films in the comfort of the front room, to talk to people face to face (well screen to screen), to play games with each other, find a partner … you get the picture and much of it is fantastic. But – many of the things we used to do that involve interaction with other human beings can be done from home.

Now the lid of community coffin is well and truly nailed shut!

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The impact of this convenience is felt by all businesses, recently Chatsworth Road lost a butcher, then one of the longest surviving hardware stores who have to compete with not one but two nationwide retailers close by, need a pack of screws, no problem order by 8pm and we’ll have it with you tomorrow!

Some people are talking about a change though. The signs are that we’re starting to shop more frequently, to buy smaller quantities.  It’s too late for many but some smaller businesses are becoming more specialist, and who knows in a few years there might be a change.

This is all very timely. The Chatsworth Road Festival started when a resident commented to a local business owner how great the selection of independent businesses is on Chatsworth Road, would she think the same today? I hope she would, but the community need to continue to support those people that put hours of hard work into providing you wiht the perfect offering.

This all affects the financial buoyancy of the community, profits of the retail giants are not owned or distributed locally but the profits of independents are typically reinvested and spent locally.

If the only thing to take from this article is to flick through S40 Local, note the businesses and when you need services think of these guys first I feel like I’m succeeding.

So there you have it and it’s all the fault of the fridge!


Words: Paul Chapman

Pictures: James Moon & Paul Chapman

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