Christopher Hirst: A lidl upset? Keine Panik, Lytham!

Lidl will provide a welcome alternative to the town's two Tesco Expresses
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The Independent Online

Perhaps because it is only a few miles from raucous, in-your-face Blackpool, the Lancastrian resort of Lytham St Annes is particularly proud of its genteel respectability. It boasts a windmill on the sea front, a "beautifully-restored" Victorian pier and an "award-winning" shopping arcade. The late Les Dawson, a man of great discernment, chose to make his home here. According to the town's publicity, it is a "coastal gem flourishing with surprises". But there was an unwelcome surprise for some locals when the German-owned supermarket Lidl decided to open a branch here. Despite objections, the cut-price outlet has got the go-ahead from Fylde Borough Council.

What I would say to the twittery burghers of Lytham St Annes is "Don't panic!" or "Keine Panik!" Exactly the same thing happened to us in south London. When we told a local estate agent that the next-door supermarket had been taken over by Lidl, he uttered a single word of advice: "Move!" Others were equally aghast. A visitor from Notting Hill who popped into Lidl to buy a bottle of wine to accompany Sunday lunch at Hirst Mansions came out bottle-less and gasping, "But it's a shop for poor people!"

This is mistaken. "Lidl is quite well regarded at home," a German friend told me. "We don't see the point of spending a lot of money on food." Though it took a while to get used to the Spartan décor and stingy staffing policy (the check-out queue can be a bit of a roulette) of our new neighbour, at least Lidl doesn't have the jarring proliferation of signs you get in Morrisons or the Co-op's incessant Orwellian loudspeaker announcements urging you to buy.

In certain respects, Lidl has much to offer. It is certainly cheap. Shoppers in Lytham St Annes can look forward to an 18-inch Madeira cake for £1.49, a good-sized chunk of Parmesan for £3.50 and a kilo of "Greek-style" yogurt for £1.55. Jolly good they are, too. Moreover, you can chortle at the store's off-target brand names. Its fruit juices are sold under the name VitaFit while its Crownfield cereal range includes such alien lines as Choco Puffs, Rice Snaps and Flakers. Personally, I would steer clear of Lidl's dire Jean Pierre croissants and Rowan Hill bread, but its Rivercote bread mixes and Prima Donna olive oil are fine.

A tour of the aisles is a little likea holiday in the Fatherland, with bratwurst, tinned buckling and Vitakrone potato salad. From chestnutsto clementines, the fresh produce isexcellent, though erratic in provision. As with shops in Moscow under theancien regime, you can never beabsolutely certain of finding celeryor eggs.

By way of compensation, the supermarket's range of hardware goes far beyond any UK rival. Current offers include a golf simulator for £99, an electronic dartboard for £24.99 and a folding table (including five fitted baskets and two chairs) for £49.99. Citizens of Lytham St Annes who feel deprived at missing these bargains can rest assured. The store's rotating range of special offers will shortly enable them to snap up such treats as a unicycle ("the ultimate one-wheeled fun") or a motorcycle intercom set.

We were seduced by an electric crêpe-maker, a bargain at £20 (if we ever get round to using it). A sale of equine accoutrements, including hoof bandages and lunging rein, was slightly misplaced in suburban south London, though I noticed that schooling whips had sold out at £2.99 apiece

Of course, I detest the idea of Lidl driving any small shops out of business in Lytham St Annes, but a medium-sized in-town supermarket fits in far more happily with existing shops than an out-of-town megastore. Lidl will provide a welcome alternative to the town's two Tesco Expresses – especially if you want a pack of six 1.5-litre bottles of sparking mineral water for £1.25 or a rotating disco ball (£8.99).

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