AN IRISH shop which has served London customers for 18 years has been forced out of business as punters opt for cheaper prices in the Irish aisle at a nearby supermarket.
Cathy Knight is set to bring nearly two decades of history of The Irish Shop in Southwark to an end this week when she closes it down for good.
The Mayo native told The Irish Post she decided to give up on her hopes customers would return from the East Dulwich shop’s main high street competitor, Tesco.
“Everyone just goes to Tesco now to buy their Irish stuff because it is cheaper,” she said.
“I just can’t compete. I would not be able to manage here at all if I reduced my prices because of the costs involved with the suppliers and everything else.”
There is a significant price difference between Ms Knight’s products and those on the shelves at the Tesco Express just half a mile up the road — one of a number of London supermarkets now offering Irish products.
The so-called ‘Irish aisles’ have sprung up across the city since the 2008 financial crash, when a renewed wave of emigration saw thousands of Irish people moving to London to find work.
To break even, the store has to charge more than double Tesco’s price for an array of items, including Barry’s Tea, Nash’s Red Lemonade and Club Orange.
Irish products are also sold at cheaper prices at a Morrison’s, two miles away in Peckham.
Ms Knight said the decision to close was hard to make and something she had long resisted.
“We held on for a few years, you keep thinking it will pick up at Christmas or St Patrick’s Day but it never does,” she explained.
But the 49-year-old added that she has “had enough” of watching the shop’s decline since she opened it in 1995. Its current plight contrasts starkly with those early days, when it struggled to keep up with demand in the area.
“I saw just two people one day the other week and on an average day you might get 10 or 15,” Ms Knight said.
Tesco is not The Irish Shop’s only problem. Ms Knight’s landlord recently said he would be increasing the rent from the current rate of £600 per month.
The shopkeeper has also seen a lack of demand caused by the Irish community’s “slow decline”.
“When we first opened it was great craic living here in the Irish community and business was much better,” she explained.
“But then everyone started going back when the boom happened in Ireland and a lot of people have died or moved out of East Dulwich because it is so expensive to live here.
“Now the Irish scene is almost gone from here. It’s not just The Irish Shop, a lot of Irish pubs have closed down too.”
Tesco claim their stores often bring customers to independent high street businesses in their localities, such as Ms Knight’s.
In response to The Irish Shop closure, a Tesco spokesperson told The Irish Post: “We aim to provide our customers with a range of products that offer good value, including world food ranges that cater for the tastes of local communities.”
THE IRISH SHOP COMPARED TO TESCO
[table]Item, Price in The Irish Shop, Price in East Dulwich Tesco Express
Barry's Tea (80 teabags), £4.80, £2
Cadbury’s Mint Crisp, £1.20, 75p
Kimberley Biscuits, £2.35, £1.50
Nash’s Red Lemonade (I.5L), £2.30, 85p
Flahavan’s Oats (1.5kg), £3.90, £2.20
Can of Club Orange, £1, 40p
Teacakes, £1.99, £1.10[/table]