The independent London newspaper

A corporate giant may snuff out our local businesses

05 September, 2019

PRET A MANGER opened in 58 Hampstead High Street in June 1983 but after just 18 months the fledgling company went into liquidation. It was later bought and rebranded into the corporate giant we now know today. The shop is now, ironically given our front page story, a clothes store.

So how will Pret’s return to NW3 be received by the current crop of traders?

Five years ago, there was loud and ultimately successful campaign against Sainsbury’s opening a store in South End Road. Bill Oddie, Debbie Moggach and Dame Janet Suzman stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the super­market chain replacing four independent shops on the parade.

That fight, five years ago, was about protecting the character of South End Green, and stopping the parade becoming another identikit high street, catering for weekend Heath walkers rather than the community that live there.

But there were criticisms about the tone of the outcry, that some chains might be considered acceptable in NW3, cheaper food suppliers might not. Similar questions were asked when the Co-op and Tesco were driven away from opening in Belsize Park.

Will the arrival of Pret a Manger – which may well hammer a final nail in the coffin of long-standing busines­ses – trigger a similar outcry?

Since the Sainsbury’s campaign was won, a stationers has hit the wall and been taken over by a tile shop chain. The Barclay’s bank cash machine has been boarded up. The function room of the Magdala, where a public meeting was held over the Sainsbury’s campaign, has been shuttered along with the pub since it was bought by a developer. The post office shut down not long before.

For years, it appeared as if the chains and the indepen­dents were co-existing – but this can only last so long.

Monica Mayer – whose clothes shop Pret is moving into – used to make her own garments and sell them at bargain prices, often to families wanting to cheer up patients in the Royal Free. She shut her store after 40 years because of high rents and rates, no doubt hastened by the likes of Starbucks and Le Pain Quotidien moving in nearby. Threatened Dominique’s is run by a family with deep roots in Camden, who first opened a café in West End Lane. Polly’s Tea Rooms has a kind of legendary local status.

Crucially, all these family-run businesses have, or had, soul. Despite the perceived qualities of Pret, and its ear-to-ear smiling staff, the operation is a manufactured, vacuum-packed product. The company is one of the biggest of its kind in this country, having recently bought the Eat chain, and is owned by a holding company based in Luxembourg.

Small businesses have enough on their plate with the seemingly endless uncertainty over Brexit. A recession may well be looming.
They are going to need as much protection as they can get.

Well played Sir Keir

Sir Keir Starmer has played a significant role in helping Jeremy Corbyn bring forward legislation that last night (Wednesday) looked to have stopped a no-deal Brexit. Mr Starmer appeared confident in predicting this on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, and he has appeared true to his word. The move has helped to counter a kind of new English nationalism that is driving the Conservative Party agenda of leaving the EU “come what may”.

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