Sunday, 24 January 2010

More tales from the road

Taken from The Times January 22, 2010
Article by Huon Mallalieu

Development threatens Portobello Road antiques trade

(Marco Secchi / Getty Images)

A Portobello Road dealer sets out his wares. The area's long-established antiques trade is under threat from chain stores and stalls selling cheap souvenirs

Since the early 1960s Portobello Road has been a magnet for tourists from around the world, as well as for serious collectors and buyers of antiques. On tourist brochures the Saturday market symbolises London, alongside St Paul’s, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, and its existence has helped to bring the prosperity that has regenerated Notting Hill. Now, it seems, it may become a victim of that success, lose the individuality that made it and be taken over as yet another chain shopping street.

In 2007 the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea published A Balance of Trade, the report of its Commission on Retail Conservation, which was chaired by, Councillor Tim Ahern, then the mayor, and numbered Sir Terence Conran among its members. A good deal of that widely welcomed document dealt with Portobello Road and its world-famous antiques street market. Among its conclusions, the majority of which were approved by the council, was this statement:

“Specific functions in specific settings can be protected. We think this is now required for the antiques arcades on Portobello Road.” The market, said the council, must not be “overrun by identikit multiples”.

Portobello Market, with its mix of antiques, fruit and vegetables, bric-a-brac and vintage fashion, ranks No 5 among London’s tourist attractions, and an average of 60,000 people frequent it each Saturday. Since the beginning of the 1960s the antiques stretch has been characterised by a mixture of shops, street and pavement stalls and arcades, some of them housing up to 200 or more dealers. The antiques section is quiet in the week, but the food stalls are still there, and as the neighbourhood has been regenerated, so property values have risen.

For some years developers have been on the prowl, with Guernseyregistered UK Investments, and Warren Todd’s Portobello Investments and Westbourne Arcades buying up properties in the area. Several small arcades have already gone or changed nature. Now, without a nod to A Balance of Trade, more than 150 dealers have been ejected from Lipka’s Arcade, a prime site on the corner of Westbourne Grove, which has been unveiled as a branch of the AllSaints clothing chain.

When the dealers vacated the twostorey and basement arcade last summer, they were assured that they would be able to return to a refurbished basement, with new retail space at ground level and flats above. However, when the hoarding came down, AllSaints was found to be in occupation of the basement as well as the ground floor. The flats were there, with a mansard extension which appears to breach planning regulations, as does the replacement of six shopfronts on Westbourne Grove and four on Portobello with sheet glass.

As the council has written to Costas Kleanthous, the chairman of the Portobello Antique Dealers’ Association, planning consent was neither requested nor granted, but it is merely

“investigating” the matter, while Councillor Ahern says that the council cannot intervene as there has been no change of use — the site is still retail.

As Portobello Investments has bought up properties in the antiques section, and UK Investments in the food section stretch beyond Elgin Crescent, vendors of Third World tourist goods, such as Chinese handbags, T-shirts and the like, have been encouraged to take stalls in front of arcades and shops, which inevitably gives passers-by the impression that similar wares are on sale within. This has resulted in an exodus of traditional dealers. In smaller arcades, such as World Famous, antiques have been replaced entirely by tourist wares, on sale all week. Feelings are running high, and violent incidents between traders and arcade managers have already been reported. As Marion Delehar, whose family has been in the trade for a century and had a shop on the road for 50 years, says: “Incandescent doesn’t begin to describe our feelings.”

Another textile dealer says: “Lipka’s was the stomach of the market. We are left with the head and toes. Red Lion, Harris’s, Admiral Vernon and Rogers are still there — but for how much longer? Without them the market will be finished.”

Precedents are not good. London councils have rarely supported their markets. In the 1970s Southwark tried to do away with the Friday morning Caledonian in Bermondsey, a favourite with the antiques trade, and after recent redevelopment regulars describe it as a travesty of its former self. Camden Passage has largely fallen to developers, despite words of support from Islington. Despite requests and assurances the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has not provided the necessary lavatories and rubbish bins for Portobello, even though rates as well as rents have increased.

Undoubtedly there is profit to be made in changing the nature of Portobello, but given the proximity of the Westfield shopping mall on one side, and Whiteley’s shopping centre on the other, Costas Kleanthous, the Friends of Portobello Road and the market’s many other supporters doubt that the road would have a longer-term future as a street of chain shops like any other high street.

Afrika Bambaataa/John Lydon - World Destruction


La Petite Gallery said...

I am an older woman, but When I was in my thirty's I would drive miles out of my way to not have to go to these shopping centers.
The little shop has such personality, MOM and POP feeling, and originality.
This world is so MONEY MAD it
makes me sick. I say if it's
not broken don't fix it. Look
Deep and all these things going
on are Big Money and politics.
It is not for your good or mine.

Pigtown-Design said...

Are you one of the missing ones?

HOBAC said...

PD - Afraid so. The new AllSaints store IS the corner we were on.

HOBAC said...

LPG - if this were France there would have been hell to pay.

Pigtown-Design said...

that's kind of what i thought. what a bloody shame.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Unbelievable. Depressingly, horrifyingly unbelievable.

Reggie Darling said...

So, the developers are attracted to the location because of its quirky, off-beat image, hoping to get some glamour for their projects by association. They then destroy it by kicking out the tenants that make it what it is, and replace them with a chain store. Great!

But...the developers alone are not all to blame. The sellers have a role in this, too, cashing in on the elevated prices the developers are willing to pay. The tenants are the ones who bear the brunt of this mess in the end...They are the ones who created the value, but they do not participate in its largesse, unless you consider an eviction notice a pay-off.

The Peacock Salon said...

This article breaks my heart. I remember Portobello Road as a vibrant and wildly diverse enclave where bohemia and traditional England resided side by side. As a child visiting London for the first time, my mother and I headed to Portobello on the first Saturday of our Holiday eager to discover the market. I hope that the council will try to intervene. Sadly, it seems the whole world is falling prey to globalization.

The Peacock Salon

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Good Lord, I have spent more than my fair share of time in Portobello Road, quite happily. This is a huge disappointment.

home before dark said...

I agree with Reggie about the devolution that has gone on here. It is not a new story but I am very sad that it is a part of your story. What will you be doing now?

HOBAC said...

hbd —

I agree, but one can't be too hard on them. Most were elderly people who tried to find the right type of buyers but just could not wait it out.

That is the 64,000 dollar question. I guess it is time for a shop. Maybe.

katiedid said...

Ugh! Living in California where historical properties are rare to begin with, I understand the pain when something with some integrity is destroyed for "progress" sake. Tragedy.