Just wanted to pass on my concern about local shop closures. LeFleur, the flower and teashop on Royal Hill, shut its doors this past week (and sold off much of the interior); Stitches and Daughters, which has existed in some form or another for 40 years, in Blackheath and in Greenwich, has announced through a note on its door (confirmed by the shop attendant) that it is likely to cease trading in a few months. While neither business was doing terrifically before the Olympics, this seems an unlikely coincidence.
No one can deny that the Olympics/Paralympics effected trade in Greenwich, with lane closures and crowds keeping, I am told, many regular customers away and not replacing them with an equal number of new ones. A few businesses may have done well — Davy’s Wine Bar and the pub across from the main gate to Greenwich Park appeared well stocked with Olympic clients — but during an economic downturn, this month-long, unchosen hiatus in normal trade may have been just enough to tip many into into closure.
There’s no denying we’re losing sweet indies like la Fleur (I did take a nice photo of some customers leaving with half the shop under their arm, including tables and a ‘tearooms’ sign but I appear to have lost it, gah…) and I can only assume the worst for Hooper and Palmer at Westcombe Park station, which has been closed for some time. And as many will know by now, Bar du Musee is to be replaced by a Jamie’s Italian.
But is this really all due to the Olympics? True, there were issues in the first week or so, and they were never totally resolved, but frankly, I think this is wider than that. It’s not just in Greenwich places are closing – the whole country is seeing turndowns.
Could it be that we are just not going to the sweet indies enough? Hooper and Palmer was gorgeous to look at, and admittedly there were fewer trains at Westcombe Park during the ‘lympics, but they had the misfortune of opening after Pistacchios in the Park, enormously popular with families for being – well – in a park and not next to a road, as much as anything. I loved to look at it, but if ever I was passing, I was on my way somewhere - it wasn’t a destination. I meant to go – and never did.
La Fleur, again a gorgeous-to-look-at place, for me, never really made the transition from florist to cafe – it opened rather odd hours, which I never fully got my head around, and did very little in the way of food – which although perfectly nice, didn’t come up to Royal Teas standard IMHO. I think most people thought of it as a florist that did the occasional cuppa – certainly when I was in there, there seemed to be a steady flow of people either coming in or phoning to buy flowers or plants – and being told (rather brusquely) that they didn’t sell them any more.
As for Bar du Musee – well, I can’t see that the Olympics is to blame for that one – it was a cough and a spit from the venue. For me, that place lost its soul many years ago, when Inc. took over, going from mysterious, eccentric oddity – a really quirky, original experience – to a theme bar where the theme was the bar it used to be. After my mum and me arriving and being ignored in a nigh-on empty restaurant for 15 minutes by gossiping waiters, my last visit was three years ago.
Don’t get me wrong – I am really sad that we are losing our indies – but I do wonder how much blame we should be putting on ourselves for this.
I was a regular coffee drinker at LaFleur (when it was open) but I put my hands up now – I never got round to visiting Hooper and Palmer (much as I intended to) and I can’t remember the last time I visited Stitches and Daughters – mainly because, apart from a copy of Neil Rhind’s Blackheath and Environs, they don’t really do the sort of stuff I buy.
If we want to see these places survive we have to use them. Certainly from Hooper and Palmer I’ve learned something – seize the day – If I see an interesting new place, don’t wait for a gap in the schedule, visit now – it might not be there when I’m actually ready.
I really hope that we don’t lose our indies to chains – Jamie’s Italian will be taking up a large chunk of Nelson Road now (mainly due to Inc’s greed, hollowing out the place at the back to make the venue into such a bloated monster). But we have to support them if we want to keep them.
I notice that Greenwich Communications Centre are starting a new support club for the next generation of would-be entrepreneurs. Their first meeting is next Tuesday.
Right. I’m off to get a coffee at L’Artisan…