A Tale Of 8 Tottenhams – 2) Seven Sisters

If you were standing in Seven Sisters you could blindfold yourself , spin around a few times and throw a dart in any direction (although I definitely wouldn’t recommend it) and there is about a 4% chance that you will hit a musician with it.  The place is positively teaming with them.  Music studios and musician flat-shares are everywhere, and it is easy to see why. Firstly it is a little “rough around the edges,” and not in a bad way too.  What it lacks in clean lines, the delivery of 5 year plans and commercial aesthetics, it more than makes up for in atmosphere and vibrancy. It’s unlike any other area in London.

The best part of Seven Sisters is undoubtedly West Green Rd, for several reasons. I am of the strong belief that any business that needs their staff to wear a uniform to identify themselves as staff members is missing a trick. I can understand a huge chain store warranting them, for brand identity and to make things quicker, etc. However, a better way for a smaller business to show their customers who runs the shop and who they need to chat to is to simply make your presence known to the customers. And that, in a nutshell, is West Green Rd. Walk down the road and many shopkeepers are standing in doorways. Some will say “Hello my friend, have a look around, best price for you my friend, best price…..” They are all passionate, and many of them will have their kids working on the weekend. Signs are handwritten on bright yellow and pink cards.  As of late 2013 there are only 4 chain shops on the road out of about 130-150. Let me just repeat that –  there are just 4. A fried chicken shop, a betting shop, an estate agents and a convenience store.   There is not one chain shop on the Tottenham end of West Green Rd. None.

Here is something that says a lot about the area – there was a pound store there (not the big chain, an independent one) and someone then set up a shop called “99p or less.” In an act of business bravado that was mind-blowingly simple as it was brilliant, someone further down the road then set up the “98p shop”. (Right now in Tottenham someone is probably plotting the opening of the 97p store…) It’s that sort of place, where shopkeepers live on their wits  and you can still bargain with them.  I once bought 2 suitcases that were £35 each for £39 in total, and the shopkeeper seemed happier with my purchase than the guy before who paid full price for his parrot cage. Yep, a parrot cage and suitcases being sold in the same shop. That’s West Green Rd.

There is a road with 19 African churches on it too, Lawrence Rd. This isn’t the longest road in the area by the way, you can walk it in about 4 mins, yet still they cram them in there. The local community centre is called the Bernie Grant Arts centre, and has the Marcus Harvey Library in it. They are not named after some 16th century aristocrat who you would have to consult wikipedia to find out who he is, but men who meant something to the people there, in the late Local Labour MP Bernie Grant, the first British Black politician, and Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican Political leader who died in 1940.  There is thus a strong connection between the people who live there now and the people of the past who have a connection with it’s current residents.

Some roads in London have an African shop. West Green Rd has multiple shops of varying different countries, such as a Ghanian shop, an Ethiopian Shop, a Kenyan Shop, etc. I used to work as a butcher, and used to do shifts as a fishmonger on the side, and there are fish shops selling fish I had never even heard of.  These shops know their customer base and target it accordingly.  Instead of the local travel shop having promotional deals to Barcelona, Paris and New York there are air-fares to Nairobi, Kingston Jamaica and Akra being advertised in the shop window.  Whilst I probably have more need of a cheap flight to New York rather than Ghana, if I am honest, the difference is that 99% of all of the travel agent shop windows in London show the prices to the same places. These ones do not. Instead of advertising package holidays it’s flights only. These people are not going away for a 2 week holiday in the sun, they are making a pilgrimage home. Not many people based in the area have family in New York, compared to Ghana, Nigeria and the Caribbean.  Thus, these shops are actually representative of the area. The products they sell are actually tailored to the area, as opposed to being a homogenized Starbucks-Costa Coffee-Pizza Express parade of the usual suspects. What a novel idea!!
They are shops by the people of the area, for the people of the area. Instead of a multinational company deciding what their customers want, and convincing them that they want it, these shops have a different approach. As the sign in a shop window a few weeks ago said: “We book tickets to anywhere. Ask Amin for details.” Amin.  Not “your local store manager.” Ask Amin, he’ll sort it out for you.  There is no Starbucks.  No “head of marketing and brand development.” The guy who cashes up and signs the lease is the same guy who mops the floor at the end of the day. It is business as it should be, and as a business owner in the area I have to admit that sometime I walk down the road and get a great feeling from seeing these independent business owners go about their trading. And that is because I actually feel part of the community here. I feel that I am actually contributing to the area and I know the other people there are too.

Another great place is the South American Indoor market that is right next to the entrance of Seven Sisters tube station. Its a fantastic indoor market, where the sellers and shop staff have personality and rapport with their customers.  The shop owners will treat you as a person, not a customer. I once went into a shop on the road just outside the market looking for a deal on some soft drinks, and the shop owner spoke to me for 30 seconds and then suddenly shouted down into the basement, “Dex? I’m sending a guy down to see you, sort out some cheap drinks for him, yeah?  He might order some extra stuff off us in the future, so don’t f**k up his order, right?”  And to be fair, he didn’t f**k up my order.

The shops might not be on the same scale as the Westfield, but nor should they be. The best selling point of the area as a whole is that, when people say to me “What’s it like”, it takes me about 3 mins to explain it all. It usually ends with me saying “Well, you should go there.” Sure, many of the stores are a bit rundown, and need a bit of a clean up, but it’s all part of the character for me.

Aside from this vibrancy, which is it’s greatest selling point, there are other good points too. Transport connections are great, with central London reachable in 15 mins. The buses are good, with night buses too. Many of the properties rival nearby Northumberland Park in terms of size and quality, which sets a high standard, and more bands that come to the studios come from Seven Sisters rather than any other area, with a lot of them are working in the city, or studying and looking for more bang for their buck within the rental market. If you’re looking for that, as Bally Studios staff can personally testify, there are worse areas to choose than Seven Sisters.

Of course, the area is not perfect, not by a long stretch. There are prime buildings that have sat empty for 10+ years. The building that used to be the bank next door to Tewco, right on the corner next to the station tube, and Wards Corner, the empty building opposite, both have huge potential. But alas, they have been empty for years, and that is sad. It is also very hard for the local shops to compete with the local Tesco. Maybe this is the reason that all of the shops that are in the area specialise in the sort of food that Tesco would not usually handle?
This part of Tottenham has been in the news recently, as many of the residents are concerned with plans to open a shopping arcade in the area. We have touched upon in in this other blog post (https://inspectionandprogress.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/saving-seven-sisters-south-american-market/)  and our views on the subject are mixed. On one hand the jobs for the area will be great and hopefully it might encourage people to visit the area. However it is also hard enough for the local businesses to survive while being in competition with Tesco, so we hope that this is taken into effect when the local council decide whether to press ahead with the plans, as it would be a real shame to lose so many of these great shops that already add to the area. More details are here. http://sevensistersregeneration.co.uk/
The Best Parts:
The shops of West Green Road.
Transport Links
Room For Improvement:

Let’s hope that the council decides to make sure that the current South American Market can, in some way, be saved, while still redeveloping the area.

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