|Mill Hill Wines - a great high street business|
We start with one of the themes I've been pushing ever since I first became aware of the issues of the environment, ecology and the risks we are facing. Each one of us has several basic requirements to live. These are air, food and water. If there is any problems with any of these, then our health will suffer. London has a plague of Asthma related to pollution. There are several causes of this in urban areas, but traffic is a major contributor. There are three main reasons people make journeys. The first is work, the second is leisure, the third is shopping. In London and in the Borough of Barnet especially, there are tens of thousands of new dwellings being built. Many of these are in tall blocks of flats. A recent drive around Colindale brought home just how much development there is. Two things struck me. The first was how few people I saw, compared to the number of dwellings and the second was how little infrastructure there seemed to be to support them. There seemed to be cars parked everywhere, blocking cycle lanes etc. There are a few convenience stores available, but I couldn't help thinking that the whole place is completely soulless. One of my favourite pubs in Barnet is just around the corner. The Chandos Arms has done rather well since landlords Emily and Are Kollveit took over five years ago, but there is little else.
When I look at Mill Hill Broadway, it is starting to resemble a rather grim, post apocalyptic vision. Closed banks, estate agents and independent shops abound. Large chains have opened identikit convenience stores, forcing out some well established long standing businesses. It goes without saying that such stores, with their buying power, advertising budgets and loyalty schemes etc will do well, but it means we end up with an identikit high street with no personality at all. I guess people who have no personality may welcome this, but Mill Hill has historically had it's own feel and vibe and to me it is awful to see this dissipated. High Streets have three key roles to play in the equation that adds up to improving the environment, air quality and general wellbeing of locals. I am using Mill Hill as an example, as I live here and know the area.
The first role is that the more shopping people do in their local high street, walking to and from shops, the less CO2 is created by cars and vans either delivering people to far flung shopping centres, or delivery services to your door. Not only that, but the exercise will help keep you fit and healthy.
The second is that High streets provide jobs. Every closed shop means that at least three or four people are not working locally. We all need money to survive, so the loss of jobs means more journeys and again more CO2.
The third is that good High Streets provide local opportunities to socialise and chill out. Pubs, restaurants, bars and clubs give us the opportunity to meet friends, without the need to jump in the car. Again the walk to and from these is a great way to work off a few calories.
The fourth is that local high streets with independents give local suppliers an opportunity to sell locally produced goods.
When it comes to the Broadway, the question I ask myself is what would attract a shopper to Mill Hill? I do most of my shopping in/off the Broadway. I buy my meat from Gerards butchers. I buy my wine from Mill Hill Wines. I buy my fruit and veg from the Broadway Food Centre (great tomatoes, mushrooms and Olives). I buy my bread from Wenzels, my bagels and smoked salmon from Yummies. I always buy my televisions etc from Raj at Euronics. The rest of our groceries, we get from Marks and Spencers, Iceland and Tesco's usually. We bank at Barclays and The Post Office. I drink at the Bridge and The Mill Hill Services club regularly. I regularly eat at The Mill Hill Tandoori, Kiyoto, Prezzo, The Good Earth, Bobs and Hudsons (in that order of regularity), I buy Jewelery from Rockman So on the face of it, I am well served. But then I look at all of the things that we don't have. All of the things that I have to travel to get. Here is a list - all of these things used to exist in Mill Hill
Business - My current alternative - Where it used to be
Fishmonger - Salcombe Gardens or Burnt Oak - We used to have Nat Jacobs
Patisserie/Cake Shop - North Finchley - We used to have Chowens
Record store - Camden Town - Stephen Siger/Mill Hill Television
Furniture shop - ???? - Mill Hill Pine Shop (where Bobs is),
Art Shop - Shoreditch - Maxfields
Car Accessory store - Halfords Colindale - Acceleration (where the closed Sushi bar is)
Bicycle repair store - ????? - Callis bike shop where M&S is now
DIY store - Wickes - Where Mailboxes is
Health Shop - Hatfield - I think where Rockman is now
Toys/Models - ????? - H.A. Blunt & Sons where Cosways is now
Proper Deli shop - ????? - Walton Hassle and Ports where Mill and Brew is now
Launderette - ????? - On Station road where Nails shop is
Sports Shop - Borehamwood - Milletts
Woolworths - ???? - Iceland
Then there are other High St features that we've not had (to my knowledge) but I do use regularly
Electrical/light fittings etc
Kitchen appliances and utilities
With our current Amazon culture, are any of these actually sustainable in Mill Hill Broadway? There are several that I believe would do a roaring trade. I think that if Elias Fish were located in the Broadway, it would do amazing business, as would a proper patisserie, chocolate shop and a bicycle repair / spares shop. Some of these could be wrapped up into a single shop/cafe. I'd love to open a book/record cafe bar in the Broadway. Local MP Matthew Offord has spoken about Mill Hill needing a cheese shop. Sadly, this has never been delivered. I suspect that a high end toy shop (an updated version of HA Blunts) would also do ok, as people love their kids and have money to spend. I think that when the Broadway lost Woolworths, it lost a huge asset and it removed huge footfall. People say "Oh Woolworths was outdated and no one ever shopped there". I did and it was always busy. I happen to know a senior level person in the organisation, and Woolworths failed because it was bought by asset strippers, who sold the property portfolio and refused to invest in the business. Any business will fail if you run it in that manner.
I'd love to see a music bar, one for grown ups. I go to them all the time and I am sure that one would work locally. If we added all of these assets to Mill Hill, I firmly believe that it would reinvigorate the High Street making it a far more attractive place for locals to shop and spend time. I believe that as this would generate tax revenue etc, grants should be available to tempt such businesses back. Maybe these could be in the form of long term, low interest loans, guaranteed by the govt. Of course a sensible business plan would be required, but new ideas are needed.
In Mill Hill, I estimate that there are approx 60 jobs not currently existing due to the empty properties. With a return bus fare being £3 a day, £15 a week, that is a decent chunk of a shop workers salary if they have to find employment further afield. It is bad for the environment and bad for household budgets. Attracting start up businesses, that would employ local young people and expose them to working in a business where they matter would make a huge difference.
It would also help build our sense of community. Sadly some local social commentators simply do not get the benefits of independent stores, local business and the dynamics of how successful small firms work. If you work in Iceland or Tesco's the boss doesn't give you a tenner for a pint if you do something great. If you work in a small firm that's well run, it happens all the time. Staff soon learn that if they do good things, they get appreciated. This means they build relationships with customers that build community. This was brought home to me over the weekend. I went into three shops. In Gerards, when I bought a chicken, I had a chat with Gerard for ten minutes over the weather and life etc (much to my missus annoyance as she wanted to get home). I later I went to Mill Hill Wines and bought two bottles of the Argentinian El Supremo Malbec (best wine on the Broadway under a tenner). I had a chat with the guy in there about the health of his dog (we are both dog lovers). I then went to one of the large chains to get an apple pie. For some reason, I couldn't find one, so I asked one of the people stacking the shelf. They were very helpful. I happened then to see the person I assumed was the manager. I said "Are you the manager of the store?". The person gave me a rather irritated look and said "What is the problem?". I replied "There is no problem, I just wanted to tell you that such and such a member of staff was very helpful and I think it is important for you to know". The response "Oh, Ok, erm thank you" and they shuffled off. I know they were busy, but I was a tad disappointed. I got the feeling that this wasn't really something they were interested in.
|Finchley Nurseries fresh local produce|
The bottom line on this is that the more successful our local High Streets are, the less CO2 we produce, the better our sense of community is, and the more prospects for our young people. Whilst the online retailers such as Amazon have a role to play, I firmly believe that the government needs to regulate them, so that local independent retailers have a more level playing field. Our system of business rates and taxation was designed in a pre-internet age. As a result, there are huge financial incentives for vans and lorries to clog the roads delivering designer kippers etc. The tragedy is that there is less, not more choice as a result. If I want Cumberland sausages, I can buy them online or I can walk to Gerards and buy them. When I get there, I might notice that the Wild Boar and Apricot look tasty. It only becomes a choice because I can see them in front of me. Online sellers try to replicate this by offering other suggestions when you buy, but for food it can never replicate seeing them in front of you. The whole concept of Amazon is anti local. Everything is centralised. If I opened a craft beer business in Mill Hill, it would allow me to sell to people in Aberdeen which is great, but Mill Hill Wines would allow me to build a locally focussed brand, without producing tons of CO2 getting it to your front door.
I will let you in on a little secret. If you go to Finchley Nurseries in Burtonhole Lane, they sell freshly grown local fruit and veg, that is all strictly seasonal. It tastes better and it has a postive carbon footprint, if you take a walk up there to buy it. Please spread the word.