The People's Supermarket is a co-operatively owned social enterprise — a 'conventional' supermarket (scaled down a little) selling everyday grocery items and staffed by its members. All profits are to be ploughed back into the business.
The store, in Lamb's Conduit Street, WC1 is the brainchild of Arthur Potts Dawson, the chef and entrepreneur behind Acorn House (the sustainable restaurant in Gray's Inn Road — well and truly KX) who has modelled it on the well-established Park Slope Co-op in New York.
As one with more than a passing interest in sustainable food, and social experiments, I joined up last week. For a £25 annual membership and a commitment to work 4 hours in the shop per month, I'm entitled to a 10% discount (it's intended this will rise to 20%). It wasn't my shift today, but I popped down to check it out and help with some opening tasks — something about partly owning it, you start to feel all responsible?
Back on Friday, the shop looked more like a building site, and as if it was only going to be selling soft drinks and chocolate bars. Today, reassuringly, staples like milk (organic and non-organic) and basic loaves of bread had arrived. A diverse group of volunteers (well, owners) were busy stacking, dusting, learning the tills and improvising price tags. A few press were in, and a TV documentary crew, who have been following the whole project for months. Local curiosity has been building up over days and weeks, and before long customers trickled in and the tills started tentatively ringing.
It's just a bit ambitious — the People's Supermarket will have to compete with the buying power of the all-conquering supermarkets, and balance a range of ethical concerns against the conflicting tastes and priorities of its members, and come in on price. It might work in New York, but will this sort of thing fly in London? Along with all the excitement surrounding it, there's no small measure of skepticism going around. I'm harbouring a bit of both,truth be told. It's early days yet, the fresh produce hasn't arrived (Wednesday's the plan) and there's but 110 members. But there's only one way to find out if this model can work.