Shop Local: Calvert Avenue could soon turn Shoreditch into another King’s Road
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Everything about shopping or just mooching down Calvert Avenue has that touch of what our high streets used to be before the big chains and online shopping got busy.
For a start, Calvert Avenue, linking Arnold Circus with Shoreditch High Street where the 78 bus turns round, is a heritage site tucked behind historic Shoreditch Church.
Today, it still has the hallmarks of neighbourhood shopping like the greengrocery that gets its produce from growers in Kent and Sussex, the barber, the cafe with its takings helping the homeless and the launderette where you drop off your washing to pick up later ready done.
But it has lost some of the varnish from its heyday when Shoreditch had a thriving furniture trade, the days when Syd’s famous tea stall run by the same family since 1919 that only just managed to get to its centenary before being dismantled and given to the Museum of London as a keepsake.
Some traditional trades have gone as well, like the sweet shop with its old fashioned humbugs, the butcher, Welsh dairy, off-licence and the famous Kossoff’s kosher bakers.
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Calvert Avenue faces competition from online shopping like the rest, but its traders feel it would be a shame to lose it if people don’t return after the Covid emergency.
Fashion designer Sampson Soboye, 54, has customers dropping in for his hand-made African one-offs, but is diversifying and adapting by turning his creative hand to designer face masks and selling them online.
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“People want to shop locally again,” he says. “We can’t survive without them.”
The Covid emergency inspired this fashion guru to produce reversible unique cotton face masks which he sells through his Soboy website.
“If you’re going to wear masks, they might as well be fashionable,” he suggests. “We started making them to raise money for the families of the 29 London bus drivers who died from Covid. We’ve sold thousands since.”
Calvert Avenue has gone from a neighbourhood parade of shops to a place for unique merchandise, almost rivalling the King’s Road.
You could buy a colour jacket like Sampson’s and no-one else on the planet will have the same. It’s a one-off.
Opposite his emporium is Rhianna Lingham’s Luna & Curious store for womenware, homeware and kidsware from independent UK brands.
“We have 85 per cent of our trade in store,” she explains. “We can go online, but it’s not our business model. That’s why we’re in Calvert Avenue. We don’t want to be just packing orders to mail out.”
Yes, money is tight, she acknowledges, but adds: “Think about where your spending it which could help keep people employed in your community.”
There’s a nice little coffee shop further down with tables and seats on the pavement, called Paper and Cup, a not-for-profit business with its takings going to Spitalfields Crypt Trust for the homeless.
It is run by Anabelle Boissonnet, a 34-year-old French national from Marseilles who chose east London as her home eight years ago.
“We are a charity,” she explains. “So people coming here are helping get the homeless off the streets.”
Two doors down, Ainsworth Broughton, 64, is probably the last remnant of a once-thriving furniture trade that dominated Shoreditch up to the 1960s, with his tiny upholstery workshop that he’s run since his apprenticeship 45 years ago — though maybe not for much longer, he fears.
“Them days are gone,” he sighs. “The last few furniture businesses bought workshops in Lea Bridge Road and all moved out.”
Soaring rents and Saturday parking restrictions aren’t helping.
“Parking was always free on a Saturday,” he adds. “Now I can’t even take delivery of stuff.”
His lease is soon up for renewal, which isn’t good news with rents having doubled twice.
At the other end of Calvert Avenue is a community laundry where you drop off your washing and two kind ladies run it through the machine to be picked up nice and clean later.
Tina Holkham loves working there, meeting people, although she’s strict about the red line.
“We keep a safe distance,” she points out. “People have to wait at the red line when they arrive, then come back later while we do their washing.”
The launderette is beginning to pick up again after lockdown, helping to keep Calvert Avenue a place where shoppers won’t be taken to the cleaners.