Last week Londonist took a look at a glorious exhibition of photos of shops gone-by, from decades gone-by. It is a lamentable fact that many of these traditional, specialised outlets have shut up shop for good, and it is also true that there are far too many empty commercial properties in the capital. The Federation of Small Businesses have just launched a Keep Trade Local Tour to help stem the trend of up to 2000 small shops shutting each year. This follows last year’s Save Our Small Shops campaign by the Evening Standard.
But it is not all doom and gloom out there. There is a definite backlash against the supermarkets, which may currently only prevail as dinner table chatter and the odd corner-shop gesture, but will, we feel sure, start to manifest itself as a powerful lobby before too long. And there is a real buzz on the High Street. Whilst we are unlikely to see a revival of the haberdasher (on account of us having grown profoundly lazy), quirky, specialised shops are popping up around the town, and there are fewer whitewashed shop-fronts than there were two years ago.
A big regenerative helping hand is coming from an unlikely source: the small scale immigrant entrepreneur. Whilst Joe Councillor at Town Hall is busy muttering about commercial diversity and aesthetics (both real considerations), high street shops in the less affluent parts of London (by which we mean those without a Monsoon, a Waterstones or a Pret) are being snapped up by Kurds and Afghans, and to a lesser extent Pakistanis and Africans. If they can’t find or afford a shop of their own, then they seek to rent out a corner of somebody else’s or ply their trade in a shop doorway. And the commodity of their choosing is invariably communication: mobile phones, mobile phone paraphernalia, international telephone cards. Add to this a plethora of gewgaws, hosiery of dubious quality and general hardware, and the overall impression can be confusing and, yes, tacky. But these merchants are busy. Supply and demand. And all credit to them: they have seen an opportunity, grasped it and turned things around. Londonist has watched as some of them have progressed from a table at the back of the butchers’ to their own double fronted emporium. They work damned hard – seven days a week, with any spare time spent gallivanting around that wholesalers’ heaven, Whitechapel. Next time you need batteries or sports socks, or your mobile phone ‘unlocking’, you know where to go.
We reckon Mobile-istan is an important part of today’s London, and tomorrow’s history.
Photos by SallyB. Taken in and around Peckham.