Three years ago, Hove was a Tesco-free zone. In a few months there will, in all likelihood, be four of them.

The supermarket giant has tapped into a retail renaissance in what was, before their forced marriage, a town generally regarded as brash Brighton's sedate elder sister.

Next week, the chain's newest flagship store opens. A glittering glass palace fronting on to Church Road, it promises to revolutionise the shopping experience for thousands.

Tesco first made an inroad into Hove in 2000, opening a Tesco Express store within the Esso garage on Dyke Road.

Last month another branch of the Express convenience outlets opened opposite Hove station in Denmark Villas.

The next planned addition is a Metro store in the former Michael Norman Antiques furniture shop on the corner of Palmeira Square and Western Road.

These three branches will be within a mile of each other, prompting claims from independent stores that the multi-national is threatening to swamp the area.

Small traders fear they are being put in a stranglehold as they struggle to compete with Tesco's enormous buying power although bosses insist their stores will encourage more passing trade.

But Hove councillor Paul Elgood is concerned: "There is a Tesco epidemic in Hove.

"Although good-quality local shops are always welcome, this one brand is seeking to saturate the market at the expense of other traders, especially the small corner shops which are the lifeblood of any community.

"Traders in my area of Brunswick are extremely concerned for their livelihoods because they simply cannot compete with giant multi-nationals.

"No one is worried about some healthy competition but this is an attempt for complete market dominance."

Tesco is not stopping at Hove. It is on the lookout for sites in central Brighton and is fighting to open another store in Rottingdean.

The new superstore in Church Road had been scheduled to open by the end of August but there have been construction delays.

Finishing touches are now being put to the 37,000sqft shop.

Spokeswoman Carol Chandler said: "We do our research and build stores where there is demand. The economy of Brighton and Hove is doing very well at the moment.

"We're putting our stores, especially our smaller Metro stores, in places where people with money to spend are able to take advantage of the prices we offer.

"We are in competition with other retailers but experience has shown that when we move into areas we attract more shoppers into that area and this has a beneficial knock-on effect."

This view is not shared by traditional shopkeepers.

John Hanna, who runs the Newstop in Palmeira Square said: "Tesco is definitely targeting the smaller shops. They will take the trade away because they buy in bulk and we cannot compete with their prices.

"I think every retailer within a square mile of these Tesco stores will feel the pinch.

"I will try and fight on by offering a personal service because I know most of the people around here but other shops will find it difficult."

Delicatessen Bona Foodie opened a new outlet in Palmeira Square three months ago stocking high-quality foods, much of which is sourced from local farms and producers.

Manager Lorraine Curry said: "We feel because they're opening a bigger branch just down the road there's no real need for the outlet on Palmeira Square.

"It's not something we're thrilled about but we don't think it will have too big an impact because we're quite specialised.

"However, we think they're trying to monopolise the local area which is going to be bad news for everyone."

But Robert Mulholland, of Mulholland's off-licence in Church Road, which he has run as a family business for 28 years, said: "We are optimistic about Tesco opening opposite because we offer a personal service.

"We're renowned for good deals and we shall be pushing the message that we deliver to local homes."

Sarah Best, proprietor of Arches Health and Beauty in George Street, said: "I'm sure it will increase our trade because there will be 200 women on our doorstep from the Tesco staff alone."

Brighton and Hove City Council has turned down an application for the front of the old Michael Norman shop to be changed into a frontage for a Tesco Metro store but the Tesco team will put in further designs after discussions with the city council.

The same goes for the proposed Tesco Express store in West Street, Rottingdean, on the site of the former Rottingdean Motor Company.

Tesco has promised to take the issue to planning appeal if Brighton and Hove planners reject proposals for a third time.

Hove MP Ivor Caplin is convinced the new store and its satellite branches will be good for Hove.

He said: "It will create 275 jobs and will be making good use of what was a former gasworks site.

"I don't accept shops will close because there a lot of specialist shops nearby, especially in George Street, which has seen an increase in trade since it was pedestrianised.

"These Tesco stores are good for Hove and the local economy."