Take a stroll down Stoke Newington Church Street on a Saturday, amidst the bustle and babble and kids in prams, and you could almost forget that Hackney is pulling itself out of one of the worst recessions the country has ever seen.
As many London shops now stand empty, these are tough trading times even for the global giants. But small businesses in Stoke Newington are pulling through – nurturing customer loyalty and offering an alternative to the seemingly unstoppable wave of chain stores flooding our local high streets.
After two successful campaigns against Starbucks and Tesco, Stoke Newington has become synonymous with a new brand of localism.
Residents and businesses are passionate about preserving the distinctiveness of their community, which enables local enterprises to flourish. However, the recession has hit local businesses hard.
A recent report by the Local Data Company found that one in eight of London’s shops now stand empty. In addition, businesses on Church Street have faced months of road closures as part of Hackney’s street improvement regeneration scheme.
The end result will be a less cluttered and cleaner Church Street – an altogether nicer ‘shopping experience’ – but the disruption has been an added burden in a tough economic climate.
“All the recent bumping and banging with the roadworks hasn’t really helped business”, said Katherine Lockwood of The Spence Bakery. “People won’t come in if we don’t look open so it has been very disruptive. The road did desperately need resurfacing though – every time a bus drove past, the whole place shook! And it will hopefully look better once the work is finished.”
The road closure hasn’t perturbed Stoke Newington’s weekend crowd, who still come out in force on Saturdays, enjoying the mix of cuisine, local produce at the farmers’ market and the eclectic range of small shops. The established shops, cafes and restaurants know their customers and are adapting to their changing needs and priorities.
With a business market dependent on word of mouth recommendations and passing trade, the focus is simply good quality products and basic value for money, so people come back again and again.
“People just haven’t got the money to spend on eating out at the moment, so we want to make sure that when they do come they get something special,” says Ken King, owner of Kimos restaurant on Stoke Newington High Street.
“We have always made sure that our prices are affordable, which is part of our success,” said Carole Lucas, owner of the Cobbled Yard antique furniture.
“Most of our pieces are in between top end antique and second hand, so as people are spending more time and money at home, we can offer them something with a bit of history at a reasonable price”.
Local MP Diane Abbott says the outlook is positive for small businesses in Stoke Newington: “I believe things are looking up. There are a lot of positives on the horizon, like the East London line, which will bring thousands more residents into Hackney with money to spend. It’s been a difficult time, but I have no doubt we’ll see businesses thrive once again in Stoke Newington.”
Note: this article was originally published on 1 March in the Spring 2010 print issue, and posted on the Hackney Citizen website on 1 May 2010