21st JUNE 2008
Having said previously that parts of Barons Court seemed so dead, I suspect that some of the problem is that there aren’t enough of the useful businesses that help to define an area and make a community flourish: no banks/ building societies, no post office, no branches of chain stores like Boots or Woolworths. I don’t entirely agree with those who wring their hands over the sameness of our high streets: we need a balance of individual shops and the things you find everywhere. If you don’t have any of the latter, people tend to shop outside the area, which just sends it further into what my mother used to describe as ‘bankruptcy terrace’ syndrome – where no business tends to thrive, large numbers of shops stand empty and increasingly shabby, and anyone trying to open a new one is unlikely to succeed. The other thing I find over-simplistic in all of this is the idea that lots of independent shops must mean that the area is well provided for. Again, we need balance: if what you have is primarily ‘pound shops’ and general dealers, that’s just as bad as too many supermarkets and chain stores. And what many areas are now missing are the really useful independent shops which often provide a far better service than the supermarkets and chain stores anyway: bakers, butchers, chemists, greengrocers, shoe shops, and so on.
Still, it’s no good just blaming Tesco and Starbucks. If we want something different, I think something needs to be done about the costly bureaucracy independent retailers have to cope with. I grew up with my parents’ floristry business, and it was bad then, but it’s worse now: VAT returns, punitive bank charges, credit card fraud and the more insane bits of hygiene and health and safety legislation, to name but some of what faces the local shopkeeper.
Finally, on a more positive note, and to give credit where it’s due, there’s an absolutely cracking independent butcher’s shop close to Barons Court station: H G Walter, in Palliser Road (020 7385 6466). It cheered me up no end to walk in there and see the display of superb organic meat, ranging from the beautiful plain steaks and joints (like venison from Windsor Great Park) to the restaurant type fancied-up (stuffed noisettes of lamb etc). Not as cheap as the supermarket, of course, but handled with much more respect throughout – and I don’t think good meat should be cheap because that invariably means poorer quality rearing. Good value is more to the point: a small amount of their meat would satisfy even a hungry appetite far better than a large amount of the factory-reared stuff, and if necessary you accompany it with other filling things like bean salad or more veg.