As big chain brands continue to dominate high streets, eroding their unique charm in favour of bland homogeneity, the presence of small neighbourhood shops feels all the more precious.
Now, London-based illustrator Eleanor Crow has teamed up with Spitalfields Life Books to shine a spotlight on them. Shopfronts of London is a beautiful and revealing collection of watercolour illustrations depicting the capital's cafes, greengrocers, launderettes, bookshops, and other such independent businesses. It's a glorious antidote to Starb*cks culture, although at times it makes for a bittersweet read (some of the shops featured have now closed down).
Here's a few of our favourite illustrations for a taste of what you can expect.
E. Pellicci - Bethnal Green Road, Bethnal Green
This custard-coloured East End caff has been filling the bellies of workers with English breakfast classics — often served with side-helping of friendly banter — since 1900, and boasts Grade II listed status. Today, the Italian family-run business remains a firm favourite among locals, as much for its generous portions as its stunning vintage art deco interior.
Cruson Greengrocer - Camberwell Church Street, Camberwell
A. Gold, Brushfield Street, Spitalfields
This Spitalfields millinery business may have closed down way back in 1892, but its charming frontage continued to pay tribute to it until 2019. That's when Butter Believe It, the bakery which now occupies 42 Brushfield Street ruffled more than a few feathers by covering it up with a sunshine yellow facade.
The Fryer's Delight, Theobalds Road, Holborn
Fun fact about The Fryer's Delight: it may be the first real-life fish and chip shop to feature in a video game (2002's The Getaway, if you're interested).
R.E. Robertson, Lea Bridge Road, Walthamstow
Andersons Bakery - Hoxton Street, Hoxton
After 160 years of feeding the local community, Andersons Bakery sadly closed its shutters for good in 2016. The building found a new lease of life as Monty's Deli — though that also shut up shop earlier this year.
General Woodwork Supplies - Stoke Newington High Street
Lina Stores - Brewer Street, Soho
The fresh pasta at this lovely Soho deli is the stuff of legends — it's been at this corner on Brewer Street for 75 years and recently opened a sister restaurant in Greek Street.
Arthur's Cafe - Kingsland Road, Dalston
F. Cooke - Broadway Market, Hackney
This century-old pie and mash shop on Broadway Market offers Saturday shoppers the chance to sample some proper East End cuisine amid the trendier street food options. Bob Cooke, the fourth generation of Cookes to run it, is set to hand over the lease soon — so enjoy it while you can.
After more stories behind the shopfronts? Make sure you pick up a copy of Shopfronts of London: In Praise of Small Neighbourhood Shops, now available in hardback. Author Eleanor Crow will exhibit artwork from the book this October at Townhouse Gallery, so keep your eyes peeled for details on that, too.