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Today is the 50th anniversary of the first Wal-Mart opening its doors, and as I think you’re probably well aware, they have done rather well for themselves since then. But suppose you’re on holiday in the UK, with an urgent shopping need – anything from new shoes to underwear to a romantic novel – where are you supposed to go?

Well here’s a quick guide to the big dogs of the high street (or outside), that you can print out and carry with you:

Marks and Spencer
Michael Marks, a refugee Polish Jew from Slonim (which is now in Belarus) first set up his Penny Bazaar in Leeds in 1884. In conjunction with Thomas Spencer, he spread his market stalls out across the north of England, quickly gaining a reputation for dealing in high quality British products (and with a very friendly returns policy). Marks and Sparks (or Markses, M&S) grew into the definitive high street clothing / quality food store. It’s all about the underwear, y’see. It’s bomb-proof.

The biggest supermarket brand in the UK. Tesco have tested the power of off-high street grocery stores more than any other retailer, selling anything from mobile phones to insurance, next to fresh fruit and vegetables. And having dominated the outskirts of town all over the country, they became one of the few retailers that could afford a presence in the high street again, so they launched Tesco Metro, aping the smaller supermarkets and general stores that their presence had driven out in the first place.


Now that we have clothed and fed you (and provided a mobile phone and insurance service), what about something to read? It’s a poor town that does not have a WHSmith selling books and newspapers and magazines and stationery and CDs and DVDs and the like. If your ink pen needs a cartridge, if your lever-arch file has a broken hinge, if your Dymo has run out of Dymo tape, Smiths is the first place you will look.

And if you need a pharmacy, the name to look for is Boots, or Boots The Chemist as it’s also known. We also have Superdrug, which means some high streets are blessed with two shops that sell makeup and perfume and sweets and sun-tan lotion and medication. However, Boots was there first and therefore takes the moral high ground. Somehow their bottle of Electrician by Britney Spears is classier.


This is the name to remember if you’re on a fly-drive holiday around the UK and you catch a flat. Or run into a fence and wish to repair the scratches to your paintwork yourself. Or need air-freshener for the car. Or need to suddenly buy a bicycle, And spray it gold. And fit it with a DAB radio. And a sub-bass. And spray THAT gold.

What? We’ve all done that, haven’t we?

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Filed Under: The Brit List
By Fraser McAlpine