If you’re interested in how West Hampstead has changed since the mid-1970s, you could do worse than have a chat with David Jacobs.
Dave, as he’s known to his staff and customers, has been running print shop Colour Division from the same premises on West End Lane since day one, exactly 40 years ago today. He still remembers when “the only place you could get a cup of tea was the Wimpy Bar”.
Things have moved on since then, not only on the West Hampstead gastronomic scene but also in the world of printing. Colour Division has seen huge changes since the early days when people queued out of the door to photocopy letterheads and fanzines. Today’s customers are more likely to request LinkedIn profile photographs or high-quality digital prints.
One thing that remains constant is the long-standing staff members; alongside Dave, Steve Twohill has been working at Colour Division for 28 years, and Debbie Harris for the past decade.
Dave and his team have built up a loyal local customer base over the years: “I think we’ve served virtually every small business in the area, many times over… from estate agents to doctors surgeries, to accountants and architects”, as well as innumerable one-person businesses and private individuals.
“We’re very embedded in the community. Everybody seems to like us and like the service. We’ve got clients literally from day one still coming here, and now we’re serving their children.”
Dave started the business with his brother Ivor who at the time was working for a magazine that needed a short-run printing service. Together with Fred and Sid Kenton, a couple of local printers, they set up Colour Division inspired by short-run instant printing services in the US. The business started under the challenging conditions of the Three Day Week – imposed by Edward Heath’s Conservative government to conserve electricity.
Dave recalls more glamorous stories from the early days though – such as West Hampstead’s lively music scene of the time. “There was a big punk scene in West Hampstead” he says, which was centred on The Railway (formerly Klooks Kleek).
He also told us about Colour Division’s role in the early days of iconic style magazine i-D, when it was produced from founders Terry and Tricia Jones’ house nearby. “i-D magazine started in West Hampstead. In the early days, the whole team used to come in. There were maybe six paste-up artists, they used to put it together here, and we printed it. It started off as a very basic thing.”
The area may have changed beyond recognition, but Dave still believes it has the same community feel as ever. He is relaxed about the arrival of big chains on West End Lane: “People knock all these big chains moving in, but actually everybody uses them.”
He continues “It’s a myth that West Hampstead is a village, but it does have a villagey feel. People have said to me ‘I’ve never been to a place where people say hello to each other’. Those are some of the best things. It’s the friendliness of everybody. It’s a people area.”
What are the downsides of West Hampstead? Dave says that the parking restrictions mean that he loses out on a lot of business. “The parking’s impossible, from a commercial point of view. I reckon we’ve lost the potential for 25% of business.” He’d also like to see new businesses come into the area: “There’s too much focus on people escaping during the day; we need more business units – more small studios would be good.”
He’s also upfront about the fact that, with ever-increasing overheads and decreasing margins, times are hard. “I’m enthusiastic about the business, but there’s more stress than ever because of the financial constraints. The banking crisis has been really tough on small businesses”.
Will Colour Division introduce 3D printing to West Hampstead? The business has managed so far to keep up with new developments in the industry and Dave isn’t ruling anything out. However, he says the technology isn’t quite there yet. “Maybe in a couple of years.” You heard it here first!
Dave is clearly passionate about hearing his customer’s stories. One of Colour Division’s services is professional portrait photography – they even have a studio downstairs – and as he flicks through his portfolio, it’s clear that he’s proud of the shots. He also knows what everyone does. “We like people. We want to talk to you about your job.”
It’s the variety of work, and the customers and stories behind each assignment, that keep things interesting for Dave. As well as jobs for large business clients, people come in with requests for photographs of newborns, or wedding invitations, or funeral orders of service.
In Dave’s own words, “It’s an unusual business, I would say. There are so many different types of jobs. You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. We’ve seen life here in the raw. That keeps it interesting.”
Since the demise of the Wimpy, where does Dave go for a cup of tea now? True to his comment earlier that people still use the chains, you’re most likely to find him clutching a Starbucks.