On the 19th of December, Dervish took to Facebook to announce the closure of their shop. I’ve always been a bit more of an Empire girl (St Andrews, not British) but, for some, this announcement was akin to the Grinch stealing Christmas. Dervish, formerly on 13 Bell Street, was a typical kebab shop, with a menu pushing pizza, chips and doner kebabs as its highlights. One third of the TTT (naturally, the Turkish Triple Threat of Dervish, Empire and Shawarma House), it was a firm favourite amongst those who consider a lethal mash-up of doner, cheesy chips and curry sauce as fine dining. No judgement though, if you’re at this stage on the five levels of intoxication, food quality probably is the least of your worries.
Despite providing a safe space for spinning heads, Dervish was less competent at spinning the cash out of our pockets. From what I can remember, you could only use the card machine for payments over a tenner, meaning that Dervish automatically lost out on customers who either weren’t carrying cash or weren’t prepared to fork out on soft chips. My own experiences of Dervish can be sweetly surmised by one St Fessdrews post, crafted on a dark October night in 2020: “I treat my one-night stands like I treat my Dervish: only because it’s the best option available at 3am and I’m p*ss blind drunk.” Dervish must have come to realise that a lack of seriously drunk people, thanks to the pandemic, also tends to result in a lack of seriously good business.
Forgetting the effects of Covid-19 for a moment, Dervish’s closure is also indicative of a wider decline in high street consumerism. The ease of ordering food online, accelerated by companies such as Deliveroo and our very own Ecoeats, is partly responsible for this, meaning that more and more small businesses serving cheap food have struggled to stay alive, unable to compete with restaurants who can afford to pay delivery costs. It’s not just food: the ability to order anything from paint stripper to painted strippers, renders an internet search a little more exciting than a meander down any old market street. Places like Dervish, where the average customer spends less than a fiver, just can’t compete. The excitement of online shopping is also not to be ignored – with the dopamine hits proven to be better than what you get from gambling, you really don’t need to get shady with acid when you’ve got access to Amazon.
Pushing the wonders of the internet aside, the fall of the high street can also be attributed to workers requesting living wages over the bare minimum. Instead of inspiring businesses to either raise their prices or do better, this has resulted in the cutting down of staff and the inevitable closure of many small businesses. Having to sponsor workers through the last few years, albeit with the support of Sunak’s generous furlough scheme, was the final nail in the coffin for companies already struggling to keep their heads above water. With the FT warning that the UK has had the weakest wage growth of all G7 countries since the 2008 Financial Crisis and the pandemic wreaking havoc on our shopping abilities, it’s not difficult to see why people find life easier online where you can sort your fingerless gloves, spun from the wool of baby alpacas, in price from lowest to highest.
Parking problems and a lack of serious infrastructure is also something that is sucking the life out of the average high street. Up and down the country, a shortage of both easily accessible and affordable parking has made securing spaces tougher than getting a ticket to Welly Ball. This scarcity has made access to many high streets just impossible for people who live beyond the centre of towns.
So, how can we revive our high streets? Government investment is paramount, yet it is up to the individual consumer to share the mantle of responsibility. Here in St Andrews, there are some obvious lifestyle changes that we can all make to ensure that the big brands, steadily closing in on Market Street, are kept at bay. Let’s start with the most painful: cancelling that Pret subscription. Yes, I know, waiting in the queue does make up 50% of your social life and, at £20 a month for basically unlimited coffee, it’s unquestionably economical. Slipping in for a cheeky Pret at 4.55pm just does hit different. Yet, when it comes down to the questions of whether the coffee is firstly, actually that good and secondly, where your money is going (because it’s always going somewhere) the answers suddenly become less clear-cut. The drinks themselves are hardly delectable and the reality of Pret-A-Manger monopolising customers from all other locally owned and – dare I say it – better coffee houses with its garish windows and tacky subscription is just upsetting. I hate to say it but, if you can’t afford to drink as much coffee elsewhere as you can get in Pret for nearly nothing, then maybe you shouldn’t be drinking that much. If you’re not being hit by the cost, then someone else is. In St Andrews, this means that the real price of your never-ending trips to Pret is being paid by the owners of places like Taste who will never be able to compete.
The title of this article is “Dervish Has Gone: What Next?” Really, it should be “Dervish Has Gone: Who Next?”. The rise of Pret in St Andrews is a grim omen of what is to come. Already budget mini markets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s are seducing shoppers away from locally run butchers and groceries. Their products may be more expensive but their customers can shop assured that their spending will only be supporting local economies and therefore local people. Can the same be said about Subway?
The same could certainly be said about Dervish, which, for all of its shortcomings, wasn’t that bad. A fine competitor in the food that isn’t food market, a proud member of the triple threat alongside Empire and Shawarma House and, though fallen, a soldier nonetheless in the fight for the high-street.