West End Lane’s changing streetscape

Ten days or so ago, it was brought to my attention that Best One – the mini-market on the corner of Fawley Road and West End Lane – was covered in memos from Sainsbury’s regarding an impending licence application.

I posted this on Twitter and got a few tweeted groans in reply, along with a more interesting response from local councillor @KeithMoffitt who said “Understand Sainsbury’s interested in Best One site but nothing finalised yet, so licensing notice odd.”

Yesterday, I noticed that the licence application had now been registered at Camden and is online.

Posting this elicited far more reaction, with the usual comments about the destruction of the character of West End Lane, the replacement of independent shops with chains, and the swamping of the neighbourhood with supermarkets. I think it is debatable whether replacing a franchised mini-market with a large-brand mini-market is particularly a bad thing, although it does serve to homogenise further the high street.

A broader issue is whether large chains can (and do) pay over market rates for rents and leases, thereby raising the market level and squeezing out existing independents as well as making it almost impossible for start-ups. I also think it’s worth looking at what we do have in West Hampstead.

I am building a directory of all the shops, restaurants, consumer services in the area and was astonished that I could tally more than 50 places that served food without venturing beyond the traditional borders of West Hampstead into Swiss Cottage or Kilburn. Yes, some of these are national chains (only four restaurants: GBK, Nandos, Pizza Express and Strada), especially in the take-away market, where some are franchises just like Best One) but the vast majority are independent.

We also – as everyone knows – have an amazing number of estate agents and a lot of charity shops. We don’t have very many ordinary independent shops – but we do have some, such as the electrical shop, the bookshop, the greengrocers and others, especially those tucked away along Mill Lane.

I’m not in the militant camp that thinks we should boycott chains, or who won’t shop in Tescos. When possible, yes, I do try and support local businesses but like most people I am also beholden to cost and convenience.

My request from this blog is simple: by all means berate the homogenisation of West End Lane, and by all means let your local councillors know your views on the matter (although remember that at the most basic level there’s little they can do to prevent individual shops from moving into existing retail units), but above all if you do believe in maintaining some independent shops in West Hampstead then please use them from time to time.

I know some of you don’t see the problem and are quite happy to see more chains move in as long as they’re selling things you want to buy. I also know that a lot of you do already make efforts to shop at independents where possible. But if you’re someone who always buys books from Amazon, why not – once in a while – buy or order a book from West End Lane Books; forsake Homebase for the electrical shop, the Iverson Road nursery or The Kitchener; or escape the congested fruit & veg aisle in Tescos and walk a minute up the road to the greengrocers. Not necessarily every day, but some days. Even if costs you a few pence more (and stop press folks: the chains in fact are not always cheaper), think of it as a small investment back into your community.

Comments welcome of course

  • Carlos P

    Great blog post and a good point about frequenting local shops, e.g. West End Lane books is a good example of how people can show their support.

    One thing you hardly touch on, though, is the massive traffic disruption that these stores cause and their habitual disregard have for loading/unloading laws.

    West End Lane is frequently brought to a total halt by Tesco deliveries (on questioning the traffic warden he’ll tell you, despairingly, “I give them a ticket every single day”) So what impact will yet yet another supermarket have on the lane?

    The council needs to hand out (or be given powers to hand out) MUCH stronger punishments for stores that flout the law like this, and the law needs to be changed to enforce less deliveries at quieter times of day.


  • WHampstead

    Good point Carlos. There was talk during the election of Camden imposing enormous fines on Tesco lorries borough-wide. The problem is exacerbated at the moment by the roadworks, but I agree that even without them delivery lorries cause chaos. Tesco wanted to deliver during the night but local residents in the flats above apparently objected. Do Best One’s delivery vehicles not cause problems? Do they park on Fawley Rd not WEL?

  • Quite agree with your point about multiples’ artificially hiking-up local business rents.

    I have always found the staff in Best One to be on the surly and unhelpful side, so personally I wouldn’t be too concerned at its transformation into a Sainsbury (though I’d prefer a Morrisons or Asda). Having said that, if these plans do go ahead I shall miss a local supplier of victuals which is open 24 hours.

  • Anonymous

    yeah true say they are MOODY in best one. i commented about the extortionate price of a mini chocolate bar the other week and all i got was abuse! well soz i'll just go to savers on mill lane then! sort me right out

  • M@

    Haven't been in Best One since I moved away a few years back, but I recall that it is inaccurately named.

    Still, I have happy memories of a birthday bet in which I had to enter Best One in only my boxer shorts and purchase a postcard of Princess Diana and a can of spaghetti hoops. The staff didn't bat an eyelid.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed – a well written, balanced article but as a regular shopper in Best One I would like to say that my experience has not been that the staff are 'moody' – quite the contrary!

  • Mayfield22

    I have noticed that Best One staff are trying to be more smiley. And even the chinese grocer cracked a joke the other day.

    However I support George's fruit and veg shop on Mill Lane. Delightful service, huge stock and you can walk out with your re-usable shopping bag packed full and still have a lot of change from a tenner.

  • J

    I think Best One is the worst shop on the road. They tried to charge me an extra £2 for a book of stamps. When I complained they blamed it on management. I consistently get a cold response from them.

    Considering the number of other shops that seem friendlier and better value, I say bring on Sainsburys..but what we really need is an M&S food hall!

  • Absolutely agree with this blog post – Best One are surly and unhelpful. I’m amazed it’s lasted this long against Tesco. Sainsburys wouldn’t be my first choice, but like West Hampstead Life, I agree that chains aren’t all bad. Also seceond the comments on supporting local shops – we’re saying goodbye to the bookshop, Dizar gifts and Mermaid clothes and getting the likes of Glo. Support the shops or they will disappear!
    Any idea what’s coming in opposite the Silverlink?

  • Agreed Best One isn’t great, and their staff are horrible, but it is open 24 hours (don’t think you can buy booze there after 11pm though). I would be pretty happy with a Sainsbury’s opening there but the problem with the convenience store, like Tesco on WEL, is the limited number of products they offer – it’s all generic own-brand stuff and if you want anything more than bread, milk and butter you invariable have to go to the larger format shop at the O2.

    What I want to know is why can’t we get a good butcher shop on WEL? I’m no butcher, but I’m tempted to open one myself – it would make a killing! (no pun intended)

  • I like BestOne – OK, the staff aren’t wonderful, but I like the cleaning products…the peach scented kitchen cleaner and the lavender scented bathroom cleaner. (OK, maybe I’m just weird….) I do actually like Sainsbury’s for most things, but you can’t get peach-scented kitchen cleaner there! I do usually go to Sainsbury’s in Kilburn High Road or the O2 centre.

    The bookshop was closed for refurbishment, has now re-opened. I will miss Dizar….

    Oh yes, and I love George’s fruit and veg shop on Mill Lane too!

  • WHampstead

    I don't think the bookshop is going anywhere just yet MuesliLover. I seem to recall that the site opposite the Silverlink has a hot food licence application in. At least Glo didn't hang around too long!

  • Anonymous

    I find most members of staff at Best One are friendly and helpful. I have seen some very rude customers in there (the arrogant type that think they are somehow above mere shop workers), so if you are one of them, maybe that is why you don’t get a warm welcome, just a thought.

    What upsets me most about Best One being turned into a Sainsbury’s Local is the fact the we will lose a 24 hour supermarket on West End Lane.

    I also find the problem with Sainsburys Local and Tesco Express is that they stock very few lines, where as the small independent supermarkets have a lot more choice. To give you an example; if I just want to pop in for a soft drink to enjoy on the go, there is a huge choice in the small shops (a whole fridge full of different flavoured drinks available in cans, cartons and bottles etc.), but in Tesco Express the range is rubbish, they have about 10 different drinks available only in bottles. They are only interested in volume, not choice.

    Another thing is price; people seem to think if it says Tesco or Sainsbury’s above the door, it will be the cheapest place to shop. This is NOT always the case. They charge a lot more in their small high street stores than they do in their main supermarkets (like Sainsbury’s O2 Centre and Tesco Brent Cross). A lot of the time products are cheaper in the small independent shops.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do sometimes use Tesco Express and will probably use Sainsbury’s Local, but I will still do my main shop from their big stores and use independent shops when I need just a few things (most of the time).

    I guess once we have a Tesco Express and a Sainsburys Local in West Hampstead, that will be if for the big chain Supermarkets. I suppose we could end up with a Marks & Spencer Simply Food but I can’t think of any others (Morrisons and Asda only go for large stores… well, for now at least!).

  • WHampstead

    Completely agree with mcdonaldj about a butchers (in fact I made just this point in the Ham & High profile published yesterday). Also good point from Anonymous about the chains not always being cheaper (although of course they SHOULD be given their buying power).

    Some really mixed views on the friendliness of Best One staff – have never had a problem there myself. I will say that the staff at Tescos are usually very friendly.

    Seems that there’s a potential PR win for Sainsburys here, if it looks at/asks what local product lines might disappear with Best One and Atlanta if it too closes, and then stock at least some of those even if they are not part of the usual Local offering. Would be interested to know th extent to which local adaptations are possible.

    Finally, there is a 24hr shop on West End Lane – the Pricecheck by the tube, although I accept it’s a long way at 3am from the top of West End Lane and is a much smaller shop.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always liked the guys in Best One – and adore they don’t bat an eyelid when you wander in after a few drinks at an ungodly hour to purchase a random selection of goods. However, it is desperately over-priced and only really good for it’s 24 hour convenience – which I will greatly miss. Happy to see Sainsbury’s come in but bitterly disappointed it’s not an M&S Food!! (Probably good for my thighs not to have such easy access to Percy Pigs though…)

  • Marciamac31

    Agree with Anonymous: mulitnational ‘local’ stores have own brand and poor quality – and, in my view, supermarkets in general do not give choice. Although not a fan of Best One, I do shop local where possible (West End Lane Books, Dizar, which I will miss terribly, George’s greengrocer, the bagel shop – but not their cafe, but that’s another story – and Atlanta). Atlanta is the only place I know where I can buy real J Cloths, not the cheaper alternatives which rip at the first use; it also sells larger packets of reasonable quality serviettes, whereas even the big branches of Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, etc sells only small, expensive packets. Do they think people only use them when they have dinner parties? I use them every day.

    And the multinationals DO push rent and rates up, which makes it hard, if not impossible, for small independents to survive. The owner of WEL Books owns his own freehold, so he won’t go until he is ready. But does anyone remember Grog Blossom? The best off-licence I’ve ever seen: huge varied range, really knowledgeable and helpful staff. (For those who don’t know, it’s where the nail shop next to Lupa is now.) It left because its rents went up to a level it couldn’t afford.

    And then there’s the traffic problems. I’m sure Camden can’t be seen to discriminate in favour of Tesco by saying they can load/unload in WEL but Sainsbury’s can’t…but maybe they can say we have too much disruption and no more will be allowed?! (And yes, Best One’s lorries also block the road, but they are often smaller and definitely less frequently.)

    I won’t shop at these places. I have not been into either Tesco, other than to see if it distributed the Evening Standard (when I had a quick look round at their pathetic range of fruit and veg). If Atlanta goes, I don’t know what I will do, but I don’t want to encourage Sainsbury’s or Tesco and, as I don’t shop at their big stores, why should I shop at their small ones?

    (By the way, I came back from Borough Market today – which is not as good as it used to be – with a punnet of the sweetest Victoria plums for £1.50, a free frisee because it was past its best condition; a radicchio, two figs, a banana, two peaches, and enough French beans for one meal for about a fiver; a litre of quality Italian extra virgin olive oil for £6.85; two Italian cheeses for a fiver – one mozzerella and a small piece of something else; and four butcher’s sausages – two ‘Old English and two roast apple and cider – for around £4.00. And people think Borough Market is expensive.)

  • Tom

    In the past I have detested Tesco, especially after getting overcharged 25+ times in 4 years in an Express store of whatever they're called (true – exchanged letters with that arrogant, phoney twat Terry Leahy over it), but at least the one on WEL has well-trained, polite staff. And as for Sainsburys on the High Road (the metro shop near the tube), it's probably the friendliest

  • cheek2001

    I was just saying to the wife the other day that I hope they open a Sainsbury’s – need to balance out the Tesco domination at either end of Whamp.
    As for Best One, they were a bit shit, and lets be honest, the place was filthy and smelly. But I had some great times – playing catch (unsuccessfully) with a water melon, climbing inside their freezers. They never batted an eyelid. They must have seen some funny things in there over the years…

  • WHampstead

    Had confirmation this morning from Sainsburys that there are no plans for 24h opening, although exact opening times have yet to be agreed.

  • Anonymous

    Agree with most points here, the Best One wasnt great and the selection of fresh food was poor. More of a glamourous off licence / Iceland really. Sainsburies will be welcome by me, lets hope they give you more space to move around the store as tesco’s is like an antfarm. Am sure Ill still be woken up by the reversing noise of an artic into fawley rd anyway. Opening hours will be only thing missed if not 24 hours.

  • jasgeo75

    Looking forward to Sainburys, but will miss the 24 hour convenience of Best One… and the popcorn.

  • Griffitz

    Good point well made. I'd be in the boycott camp however your pragmatic POV is perhaps a more productive one as it has a broader appeal.

  • Anonymous

    How can people say that the arrival of Sainsbury’s brings much the same as the two existing Tescos? They use completely different packaging to start with. Some of the ready meal cardboard sleeves are first rate and have some very nice food pictures on them. In some cases they even use spot UV printing techniques. The cellophane around the individually wrapped undersized peppers magnifies the veg to make it look almost normal size and is probably better quality plasic than Tesco. They also sell food. We bought some steak which was beautifully infused with about half its’ weight in water and the nitrate marinaded bacon is to die from.

    All in all I am thoroughly excited about the new Sainsbury’s as having to walk more than 50ft for my low grade carbs was becoming a real hassle.

  • Todderick Bottfondler

    Why is the Sainsburys so pointlessly crap? How many degenerate crisps, biscuits, fizzy pop bottles and trashy magazines do we need? Tesco already have all worthless junk that covered so why don't they stock actual food like meat and fish?