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Saving Seven Sister's South American Market

by Jimmy Mulvihill

October 23rd 2012

There has been widespread local press coverage recently about the South American Market at Seven Sisters Station that is at threat from closure to make way for a 7 storey mixed-use building of residential properties and shops. The council seem to be strongly in favour of it, yet a lot of the residents -the majority - seem to be against it. We are based just down the road from it, and we think that one of the best things about Tottenham is how unique many of the shops here are. Apart from a few banks and betting shops, the vast majority of businesses here are small and independent, mainly because the area is poor enough that large corporations give it a wide berth. Walk up West Green Rd, and there are independent Caribbean, African and South American shops all trading side by side. There are no chain shops that we can think of in the whole road, and we think it gives the area a unique feel.

We’re not against plans to re-rejuvenate the area. On the contrary, the recent building work in Tottenham Hale has helped to really improve the area in such a quick time, and we’re massively in favour of it. The area has taken on a feeling of vitality that was sorely needed, and we take our hats off the the builders and planners, they have done a sterling job. Our only concerns are that if you are going to dictate to the residents how the future of their area will develop, and not listen to their opinions and take them on board, how are people meant to feel that the area is theirs? In the aftermath of the Tottenham riots, many people said that there was a lack of pride felt by the community, and they were bemused as to why people would wreck their own neighborhood. But when the council doesn’t take the views of the locals on board, it’s hard for people to really feel part of the community. How can you feel pride for something that isn’t yours and that you have no say in?

As the writer of this Guardian article points out, “from a Colombian mini-market I bought chocolate from Argentina, coffee from Brazil and seasoning from Peru. Spanish was being spoken everywhere.” He’s right, the area has a unique feel that cannot be easily replicated, and when you consider that building work will shut the site down for 3 years, (if the building schedule goes to plan), in which time many traders will have re-settled elsewhere, along with confirmation that rent will nearly double when the new development does opens, we can’t help but feel that an important part of the community will certainly be lost.

If the council want the residents to be proud of their area they should invest in it, as opposed to bulldozing it and starting again. We like a Pizza Express meal as much as the next person, but we can’t help feel that it would be a case of putting a square peg into a round hole. Anyone who has spent any time in the area can see that the shops currently there are there for a reason, ie. they are in demand. The businesses that are not here are not here for the same reason – they are not a natural fit for the area. People talk about natural market forces, but at present the market forces are pretty resounding. Force these independent business out, especially in such an economic climate, and with the added costs of relocating and finding new premises many small business’s could go under. And where would they go, even if they could re-locate? Most businesses in the area, us included, are run on a tiny budget. When Mill Mead Road was closed last year for 7 days due to the shooting which sparked the 2011 London Riots, it took us the next 5 months to financially recover. Saying, “we need to close your business for a while, but it will be worth it next year” is missing the point, that these businesses may not even last that long.

Why not build this new complex at Tottenham Hale instead? There is a large bit of land in front of the station, currently occupied by Maplins and KFC. These are business’s that would actually benefit from a sleeker presentation and modern facilities, and so they would actually benefit from such re-development. When the re-development of Tottenham Hale happened there was 1 business, a storage depot, that was occupying several acres. Storage depots don’t make the same community contributions that cafes and bars do and they are not as dependent on location, so it was easy to knock it down and start from scratch. The owners were compensated, and so everyone won. Will the business’s in the market be compensated? Probably not.

At the end of last year, the Walthamstow Standard shut down, with plans for it to be replaced by a chain supermarket, and with it another reason to visit the area was lost. I grew up in Colindale/Kingsbury in North West London, and the area was revitalised in 1993 when the Yohan Plaza, later to become Oriental City, was built. Overnight Japanese bookshops, mini markets, accountants and a whole host of other East Asian businesses came into the area, and it made the area unique. People would come into the area just to use the 141,000 sq feet of retail units that are solely marketed towards a single market and it became a reference point for the area. Yet at the height of the property market in 2008 the shopping complex was closed to make way for housing. As of 2012 the development still has not taken place, and so it has sat there, empty, for 4 years while the developers work out what to do with it. All the while, large amounts of people, many of whom actually moved into the area specifically to be near the complex, are without a place to shop, and hundreds, if not over a thousand are out of a job. I can't help but feel that the developers would not be so quick to close it down if it were their jobs on the line. (Note, as of Jan 2016, the development has still not been fully redeveloped, with work only recently being started.) As a result, the area has been decimated. It no longer feels wanted or welcome, and the satellite businesses have left town, taking the vibrancy and buzz with them.

We hope that the same doesn’t happen to “El Pueblito Paisa”. People are not going to travel into the area to use a Pizza Express when they could just use one of the two located in Walthamstow, or the Winchmore Hill location instead. On the other hand, people will travel into the area to use a unique local business that can only be found here. There are people who already live in Tottenham and they are going to use the local businesses through convenience, but the real potential of the area is to get outsiders to travel into the area to use businesses. Not only would be add to the current local economy, but it is also likely that these people will have more money, seeing as Tottenham has such high unemployment and low average wages compared to other local areas. At present these businesses are unique, and yet they are to be replaced with general businesses instead. Is Seven Sisters trying to compete with the N1 Centre up the road in Islington? If so, they're going to lose, no doubt about it. It makes little sense.

If the businesses are affected, we hope they will be compensated and assisted, and suitable replacement units, within the local vicinity are sourced prior to them leaving their current locations. If they must be moved, find them a new location, give them a fair and secure tenancy along with the compensation for the move, and then redevelop the area. At the very least, we hope that people will pop along to see the market while it’s still here. It’s right outside Seven Sisters tube station, and is barely 12 minutes on the tube from Kings Cross. (Originally posted on Tuesday 23rd October, 2012)

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