Setting Standards

I wandered up to Blackheath Standard yesterday afternoon and was frankly astounded at how damn good the place is looking. From its seeming as though the parades might be in terminal decline just a couple of years ago they have blossomed to being a proper local village.

It has everything – butchers, bakers (no candlestick makers, but plenty of smelly candles) greengrocers, two very fine indie DIY stores, a health food shop, pet shop, florist, funky new library, the always delightful Pegga Stores (long may her fabulous 1960s pegboard decor and old-fashioned-cash-register-encased-in-glass reign) several cafes, including mod throwback Gambardella, newsagents, far too many estate agents (but then they’re bloomin’ everywhere) launderette – you name it, they got it. And it looks good. Really good.

New shops seem to be springing up everywhere. I didn’t catch the name of the toyshop for well-heeled kiddies, but it’s smart. The cookshop lady has only been open a week and although she doesn’t have a huge amount of stock, it’s swanky stuff, good for getting people through the door so she can tell you about her main raison d’etre, her cookery school, for everyone from keen kids through clumsy adults to advanced chefs. (www.blackheathcooks.com, if you’re looking for a good Christmas present for the foodie in your life…)

I found myself wishing that Trafalgar Road could get such a makeover. Sure, new shops open from time to time (and often close again quite quickly) but the place still has that closed feel with so many dead shops and scruffy takeaways all over the place.

Of course the Standard has something that poor old East Greenwich doesn’t have – a cute village green (even without the demolished bus shelter) with pretty old drinking fountain, a grand-looking pub and some beautiful houses overseeing it all. The pavements are a bit wider too, to allow cafes to spill over onto them, and, crucially, there is plenty of parking. But Traf Road does have some things that could be worked around. The King William IV desperately needs to have a sympathetic landlord turn it into somewhere people would actually want to go to, but it’s a very nice looking place. Christ Church is pretty, too, and many of the shops themselves are actually better-looking than those at the Standard (the Standard row that has the library in it is downright ugly, but the shops inside make it really good.)

Admittedly there’s not much we can do about narrow pavements  or the parking issue but we do have the empty ‘Heart of East Greenwich’ – can’t imagine anyone’s going to do anything about that for a while – why can’t we use the land – let local people turn it into a park (dare I say ‘village green’,) allotments – or even a car park – depressing but at least useful.

People tell me I can’t have indie butchers or bakers (we lost the fishmongers) because people just go to the local supermarkets. I’m not sure I totally buy that – M&S don’t seem to have affected the Standard – but okay, I’ll run with it. So we need ‘destination stores’ – places people are prepared to make a pilgrimage too – one of the many reasons Theatre of Wine does so well.

A couple of years ago I was in Romford market and got talking to a fabric seller. He told me that his grandfather had started the business – in Trafalgar Road – but had had to move. A couple of weeks ago, I got chatting to Miss Libby Rose in Greenwich Market, who runs sewing lessons and has just started selling fabric. It won’t be long before she outgrows that store – perhaps it’s nearing the time when Trafalgar Road gets a material shop again, just the sort of ‘destination’ shop I’m talking about. 

I know I got leapt on last time I suggested that landlords need to be put in a situation where it’s cheaper to have someone in their premises than to allow them to lie empty for decades, but I still believe that the only way Traf Road has any hope of rejuvenation is to get shops inside the shops. I’d still love to see the empty premises used by artists and craftspeople as pop ups – to make East Greenwich somewhere hip people actually make a beeline for alternative art, 

I know – it’s a dream. But I look at the way Blackheath Standard has turned itself around I want it for East Greenwich too.


20 Comments to “Setting Standards”

  1. Steve says:

    Actually, I don’t think the Standard has turned itself around recently – it’s been pretty much like that for a long time – shops come and go (like the baby clothes shop that came and went last year) but it’s been a good local shopping area for as long as I have known it (30 years). Key changes were when the library moved from St John’s Park, and then when (thank goodness), M&S snapped up the old Safeway/Morrison site rather than leaving it empty. As you say, its presence hasn’t killed off the local shops although Sparks the butchers seems to be struggling nowadays.

  2. NICK says:

    Local traders will telly you that M and S does affect their trade. The store does attract lots of people to the Standard. But it sells pretty much everything. Except Sparks’s Chorizo Sausages, which are delicious. What we need is a goos restaurant. The Sun Ya is in my view mediocre minus. I asked Frank Dowling what he thought….

  3. darryl says:

    The key to the Standard is consistency – many of those shops have been there for years.

    There’s been a supermarket at the Standard for many, many years – the library used to be a Co-op, and M&S opened as Safeway in the early 80s. The difference is, I guess, that it’s slowly gone upmarket as gentrification slipped in; particularly when M&S bought the old Safeway from Somerfield.

    Geographically, the Standard has a bigger catchment area too – it’s the local shopping parade for great chunks of Charlton and Kidbrooke as well – and less of the traffic which bedevils east Greenwich. Clear the traffic from Trafalgar Road, and we might get somewhere…

  4. LondonRuss says:

    I love it on the winter as the Chavs don’t come over with their cheap booze and poundland BBQs. Call me a NIMBY if you wish.

    I have to defend Sun Ya, it may not be the Ivy but they are reliable and have excellent customer service.

    My wife and I are proud to live in Blackheath and thrilled by all it has to offer.

  5. Stephanie says:

    I think the shops at the Standard are struggling – more are having early closing than before, which is a shame. They’re fantastic shops, we – communities – need to support them all year round so they last. I know that I for one would miss the bakers, butchers and greengrocers if they were to go.

    … But I can’t get any more stuff in my freezer right now!

  6. Neil says:

    It would be helpful if the independent shops opened at hours that made them more accessible to people who work 9-5. I’d definitely use them more if they were open late, say one night a week. As it is, I end up in M&S by default because it’s open on the way home from work. I’d rather go to Sparkes and the greengrocer.

    Changing the parking hours to discourage people from leaving their cars there all day would also help the shops (though probably not the residents).

    If Sparkes closes (as I’ve heard rumoured a few times recently) it would be a great loss to the area.

  7. Richard says:

    It will be interesting to see how the food shops in Royal Hill fare when Sainsburys opens up in January. Hopefully Drings will not go the same way as Sparks.

  8. mazer says:

    I was just thinking the very same thing recently Phantom, I like the practical and useful shops there.
    I was actually thinking that Trafalgar road has improved though! The Blackwall lane/Woolwich road end is looking tatty and desperately needs love and investment, and I won’t even comment on the former hospital site. However, The Arches end has seen the vacant lots becoming new shops recently, such as the flower shop. Although it will always be very much a second to the town centre, Trafalgar road still has useful everyday needs covered with Co-op and Tesco etc and thank goodness for Alacosta Cafe (nice little cafe garden at the rear) .

    Changing the subject slightly, It would be great to see more open up on on our still under used riverside. The wonderful Cutty Sark stretch could be even more alive with cafe’s as well as the pubs.

  9. Sven Ellis says:

    A fairly optimistic slant on the Standard, although I agree that it’s infinitely better than poor old Trafalgar Rd. However, Sparkes and Apples’n'Oranges are at death’s door and the quality in the baker is variable. Pace Steve, I think M&S is killing off the shops, just slowly. At least when it was Safeway you could buy cat food/baked beans/soap powder and then go to the other shops. In M&S, with its gloomy ranks of ready meals and unfrozen bread, you can’t do that. The other villain is LB Greenwich, who have been reluctant to bring in 2-hour parking. Doubly brainless, as they’re the landlords for Old Dover Rd and ought to have more interest in keeping businesses profitable and rents up. When they’re letting empty sites to charity shops on 6-month leases they’ll wonder why.

  10. Steve says:

    When it comes to the Standard, as much as it is a cliché, we have to use it or lose it. I’ve been really pleased to see the new toy shop (Ottie and the Bea) and the cookshop open, and they have been incredibly welcoming to new customers. But all the shops need our support!

    Saying that, I do agree with Neil’s comments above about more flexible opening. That applies at the weekend too. Some shops don’t open until 9.30 or 10 on a Saturday and so miss the early risers, of which there always seems to be a fair few. Sundays most shops are shut, which could be a missed opportunity too.

  11. valley_girl says:

    The problem caused by free all day parking could well be solved in the near future, as I think Old Dover Road will soon be ‘pay and display’. (see articles in Council’s proposed budget cuts) The trick will be not to make it too expensive so that people are deterred from using the shops. It could also make M&S think twice about having an hour’s free parking.

  12. GORN61 says:

    I agree with Nick that we need a decent restaurant. When the Barclays-Woolwich merger happened, I was hopeful that the Barclays bank would be freed up for a wine bar/bistro or even a curry house, but instead they vacated the old Woolwich premises, allowing one of the (too many) estate agents to shuffle along and leave a space to be taken by another charity shop (and a poor one, at that). The Sun Ya really isn’t the full ticket – it aspires to mediocrity, and occasionally manages it.
    I wish that Gambardella’s attempt at a deal with one of the village indian’s had come off.
    Still, good to see Hirst’s the baker selling Goddard’s pies now.

  13. Idris says:

    Richard…’I hope Drings does not go the same way as Sparks’??…I wish it would. Sparks may not look as presentable (or have as pretty window displays) but the quality of the meat is far better than Drings. I’m not saying Drings is bad…but at Sparks they believe in real quality. Drings is volume (and profit)first, quality second.

  14. Paul T says:

    Drings is a terrific butchers; their bangers are the best, a terrific range, all made by them – not bought in. Makes me glad I stopped being a veggie.

  15. Andy A says:

    I think Dring’s is the best butcher in town – I second their sausages! Perfect for big Sunday morning breakfasts!

  16. Devonshire Drivel says:

    Dring’s is a fantastic butcher. Have been buying meat from them for 17 years and never ever had anything less than top quality. The Italian sausages are particularly wonderful and the meatballs stunning

  17. Richard says:

    Idris, mine was more a comment about the arrival of a big chain store and its possible effect on the established local shops. To be honest I think the customer base for the butchers, cheeseshop, fishmongers and the Creaky Shed will remain pretty loyal. Having said that Sparks has been around for a good number of years and it would be a poor omen if it were to close so soon after M&S opened.

  18. London Ness says:

    I do get sick and tired when small business owners, especially specialists play the ‘big bad corporate’ has ruined my business.

    if they try and compete they will go to the wall, but I don’t go to small businesses on price, I go because they offer something M&S can’t. If it was simply a case of lowest common denominator then why do so many of us trudge down the farmer’s market to buy a chicken or carrots from Bill of Bob’s farm? We go because it gives us some things the big boys can’t, or at least the illusion of something.

    My choices are based on quality, stock and personal service. There are two DIY shops, Standard DIY and Marnalls, I always choose Standard first simply because the guy who runs it seems to give a sh*t and Marnalls make me feel like they are doing me a favour by opening.

    There are 2 dry cleaners, I always use Collins, the man that runs it has good old fashioned shop-keeping customer service. I am half his age and he calls me and my wife ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam’, conversely I do use M&S (all the time) but I think if I burst into flames at the till most of the check-out people wouldn’t even notice (despite having been on 30 M&S ‘how to love the customer’ training courses. But I don’t mind, I know what they do and what to expect, knowledge and authentic customer care and not two of them.

    So if you are a shopkeeper reading this, play to your strengths and don’t concentrate on what M&S are or are not doing.

    If you show you have the knowledge of a specialist and give a sh*t then I’ll give you as my custom again and again.

    If you are a shopper then give you money to those who show these kind of values, anything else is tokenism, which may help in the short term, but in the long term it does no one any favours.

  19. EnglishRose says:

    I finally got round to trying one of the workshops at Blackheath Cooks last week, having been meaning to do so ever since I read this post back in December. It was great fun and really well organised, with the added bonus of being a short stagger home at the end of the evening. Definitely worth trying if you fancy an evening ‘out’ without having to trudge home from central London at the end of the night. I do hope they’ll stay there for more than five minutes…..

  20. Alex says:

    In my view, Sparks is better quality than Drings (which is good as well and which I used to go to) – I have been blown away by the meat I have bought there especially the pork.