Saturday, 9 July 2016

Supermarkets killed the high street – immigrants revived it

I must start with a caveat – I can only speak about London and then probably only those parts with an immigrant community – the high street is doing well.

When we moved here in the 1960s the complaint was that supermarkets were killing the corner shops. I wasn’t very surprised – they were pretty dingy and not open for very long. Mind you, the supermarkets weren’t much better.  I remember that Sainsbury’s in Swiss Cottage opened at lunch-time on Monday, early closing day was, I think Thursday, and then closed at lunch-time on Saturday – and they were only open till about five or six o’clock. There was a milk dispensing machine outside the tube station if you needed milk at the weekend, unless you could get to a kosher shop on Sunday.

I used to shop at Coopers Fine Fare - long since gone – they were open until 7 pm which meant that I could shop on the way home from work.  We had the tiniest fridge and a freezer that held two ice-trays – barely enough for a brick of ice-cream (remember those?).

The corner shops did close and then Asians came from Kenya and Uganda and they started opening again – and they were open long hours.  They sold mainly cigarettes, sweets and packaged foods – not too much in the way of fresh food. Many of them moved on – their children who had helped in the shops, were now doctors, dentists, pharmacists, lawyers, accountants – and the shops had paid for all that.

In North London there are still the kosher shops – butchers, fishmongers and bakeries.  But now our high street has even more small shops – despite the dreadful supermarket “local” shops. Added to the Asian there are now Middle Eastern and Polish.  If I want fresh herbs I can get a big bunch of coriander for the same price as a few wisps from the supermarket; a box of cherries is half the price of a kilo from the supermarket and every exotic spice and ingredient is there.  The lamb (halal of course) is amazing and the chicken comes in small winglets ready for a tagine. And of course the Polish shop has lovely chocolate covered plums.

A memory springs to mind: there is a very small parade of shops near where we live. When our children were small there used to be a little sweet shop which absorbed a fair amount of their pocket money. It was run by a Chinese woman and had been there long before we arrived in the late seventies. One day I went into the shop to hear her tell a customer that she was closing down. She said “this shop has raised my family and educated my children and now that they have finished university I can stop”.

These immigrants – they come here and make successes of their lives!!!

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