Just for an albeit sick kind of laugh yesterday, I decided to count the dead shops along Trafalgar and Woolwich Roads. It was a depressing experience. It wasn’t an easy job. Some shops are so dead that it’s easy to miss them totally, blanking them out in your mind. Some are actually just about still alive but are so tatty I almost took them for empty. Some I couldn’t tell where one shop ended and another began. For the record I counted along what can be at most a third of a mile, 33 empty premises. THIRTY THREE. Now albeit I’m counting a couple of gigantic ex-offices which are total eyesores and the Caffrey’s joint but really – that’s terrible.
It wasn’t always so grim. The place must have buzzed once – only a few days ago I met a guy on Romford Market selling dress fabrics who said his old shop had been on Trafalgar Road. He said that the rents, the traffic and the lack of footfall drove him out.
There’s such opportunity here. With all the new builds coming – at the horridly-named “Selection” (how much precious and expensive time did it take the marketing company to find the letters “SE10″ in a word, I wonder) and its rather bizarre unnamed opposite number (am I the only person that thinks it looks like a bunch of portacabins stacked on top of each other?) not to mention whatever goes into the Old Hospital site, there are going to be loads of new people moving in – all of whom will need to buy stuff.
There’s one shop in particular I’ve had my eye on for some time. My next door neighbour and I fantasise about setting up a really good quality cafe and cake shop a la Buenos Aires in the old Wavy Line store (see above) It’s a fab little shop – with a side entrace for vans/ horses and carts. I have no idea what it’s like inside as it’s got filthy windows and net curtains and it seems to have been shut for ever, but it must be similar to the others which are a fair size. It was recently painted (probably part of the little push to brighten things up a bit round East Greenwich)and it wouldn’t take much, I’m sure, to make it really exciting.
It’s also got those lovely coloured ceramic tiles either side of it, nearly intact and little cast iron ‘parapets’ above the side entrance. There are several shops down this road with fabulous little quirks and flights of fancy, often in a dreadful state of repair or even painted over in vibrant colours (see the little obelisk-ball things over the newsagents next door to The Old Friends, a pub I won’t discuss just now) for a particularly vomit-inducing yellow colour.) I’ve never understood why shopkeepers don’t cherish these little bits of decorative history the way that homeowners have started to. I can only hope the trend back towards keeping original detail within homes will start to permeate the retail emporia of historic towns…
Together my neighbour and I dream of having lovely mis-matched furniture – squashy old sofas and wooden tables and chairs, proper crockery and good quality coffee (Union Roasters, natch…) The cakes would be under big glass domes and very much of the homemade variety – you know the sort of thing. My own favourite addition would be a secure buggy park in the back bit where the vans used to go so that there would be lots of room for pushchairs. There are plenty of schools and nurseries around – I’m sure there would be the clientele – and the rents must be dirt cheap for shops shut for so long, but I really can’t do it.
Anyone who actually knows me will tell you that I haven’t the temperament – I have patience neither with regular hours nor the General Public. I would be the original Grumpy Old Phantom – and would be forced to do a Very Bad Review Indeed of myself.
So my idea’s up for grabs, guys. Someone must find the challenge attractive? I’ll be a regular customer, and so will my next door neighbour, for starters…
If you don’t like that shop there are 32 others to choose from – some in appalling condition; others recently refurbished. I got all excited recently when a shop a few doors up from my dream shop was totally gutted and refurbished – only to find that it had merely been done to give the flat upstairs a separate entrance so it could be let out on its own. The brnad new shop has whitewashed windows and an extremely dead feel to it. Depressing stuff indeed.
In case you don’t fancy a coffee shop, here’s my East Greenwich Wish List:
What we need:
A greengrocers (though for now the little market stall by Rick’s Place is an excellent substitute)
A GOOD bakers (sorry – I just don’t count Greggs)
A GOOD QUALITY cafe down Woolwich Rd end
A cheesemongers (well, a phantom can dream…)
A lovely sweetie shop (still dreaming)
A fabric emporium (dreaming on)
Anything interesting and quirky
A small Woolworths (sorry – a particularly peculiar personal perversion of mine – we all have our faults, please bear with me, I’m getting therapy)
Oh, and a truly GOOD restaurant.
What we DON’T need
Dodgy fried chicken shops
Pizza delivery places
Takeaways – of ANY variety
Tool hire shops
Dodgy electrical appliance shops
Hairdressers – have you SEEN how many hairdressers there are down these two roads? There might even be more hairdressers than estate agents, though at least the hairdressers do a useful job)
Tatty pound shops
Did I mention Estate Agents?
Any other kind of agents ESPECIALLY Estate Agents
Perhaps congestion charging will encourage more people to walk along these currently scruffy rat-runs for out-of-town traffic. They could be a valuable local resource. They’re currently a depressing experience, but who knows what the future could bring.