Everything changes eventually, it’s a natural evolutionary process but whats happening in Soho is quite frankly below the belt, it’s reminiscent of what happened in East London when they wanted to build the Olympic park, it’s all about making money but dressed up as for the greater good. Since the closing of Madam Jojo’s, the Soho arts scene is rapidly disintegrating as more and more business close, lose their license or can’t afford the 70% rent hikes! I have been told by a few that there’s been planning permission on Madam Jojo’s since 2013, suddenly a fracas happens and they lose their license!
Walking through Soho last week I was hit hard by the changes, it’s not a subtle change that happen naturally over time, when an old business closes for whatever reason and makes way for a new business to come in. I have always love Soho, being a Londoner it is one of those places, that despite having a seedy and rough reputation it’s also full of character and personality. Berwick and Brewer Street have always been my favourites, the cloth house, the music stores/exchanges, the Japanese grocery shops, the newsagents that sell indie fashion and music magazines are all slowly going and being replaced by hipster cafes showing movies whilst you sip ‘the best coffee in London’ probably the most over used phrase by coffee shops or expensive pop shops that stock one type of clothing in two colours and the shop display is just those two tops!
Carnaby street was famous in the 60s for the place to go and buy your clothes, it was mainly factory outlet and market stalls, today it’s just another brand alley, housing expensive high street brands and chain restaurants and pubs. I would say this slowly creeping through Soho but actually it’s happening so quickly people are being blindsided by it! I was on my way the Bead Shop on Carnaby street and cut down Brewer Street, it was only because I stopped to ask myself why the fuck has the sweet shop been replaced with a marketing suite (an empty one at that) that I saw a notice for the Bead Creative which is now located in a little courtyard off of Brewer Street, I wandered in wondering if it was the same place but relocated and it turns out it had. I overheard them saying to another customer that it was the old shop and that they had relocated. I got talking to one of the staff whilst paying and we had a long old conversation about what was going on, apparently their last rent hike went up by 70% but we agreed that the new space was better and bigger, the shop used to get a little crowded but still 70% is morally wrong but it’s the normal tactic for landlords who want tenants out especially when developers are enticing them with big wads of cash.
The music scene is suffering as well, we’ve already the London Astoria to the cross link, BM Soho was also forced to closed over contractual dispute you can read the reasons for closure here
, Black Market records has also closed for pretty much the same reasons, both literally gone just like that and that’s the brutal nature of ‘gentrification’. I’ve never been a fan of the sex shops but Walker’s Court has always been their home of these since before I can remember, so imagine my surprise when I did my usual scurry through the alley from Brewer to Berwick street and found they had all pretty much closed down and been replaced by vintage shops, charity shops and cafes. I’m just hoping the market is not under threat.
Darwin says that the key to survival is not be the most intelligent or the strongest but the ability to adapt to change but when you’re not even being given the chance to change, demise is inevitable.
The problem is that an area’s success built on hard work, community, reputation etc ends up being the cause of it’s own demise, the big soulless corps want in on the action, they see the tourists going their wanting to see a bit of authentic London knowing their is money to be made and they push out the traders who built it up, they knock it down, build shiny now expensive building full of lights and expensive mass produced items and sell on the history of the area. It’s happening everywhere, Camden is already well on it’s way to be a cloned high street, Brick Lane is still managing a healthy balance and natural evolutionary change, though the vintage shops are still too way over priced and you know my history and love affair with that part of east London.
If an area is left to perish, then by all means change it. Take the Trocadero, it used to be good, they had great plans for it, then it was abandoned and became some weird, forgotten no mans land between the Rain Forest cafe and Piccadilly Circus. Broken escalators, ramshackle shops selling knock goods and if you made it that far up, a half decent cinema! But it got to the point where something needed to be done, it had to go, mainly for health and safety reasons!!
Some parts don’t need cleaning up, they don’t need cleansing and replaced by middle class hipsters who can be heard proudly declaring over their mochachocholattes made with milk that has been coaxed out of an almond by singing it lullabies, that they live in Soho now, the most popular area of London. No dude you helped kill that area, London is one of the most diverse capitols in the world, it is filled will some many cultures, you can almost find any restaurant serving food from any number of countries/cultures, there is only so many cafes you can have in a city before they become a dime a dozen, yes people want tea and coffee but they want good tea and coffee, not overpriced shit tea served out of a jam jar (I have yet to come across but as soon as I do I may have to seriously think about quitting London), London survives because of it’s cultural mix, it’s diversity, the fact that you can pretty much find what you want somewhere in this city but if it’s all replaced we lose a little bit of it’s personality, what makes it real.
But at the end of the day the cold stark truth of reality is that this going to happen no matter how we feel, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t kick up a fuss and put up a fight in the mean time, if we just roll over and accept it means more will try and do the same! After drafting most of this I went to work at an event at the Roller Disco in Vauxhall, turns out next week it’s being knocked down to make way for a block of flats! There are 263 new tower blocks planned for London you can read the article here, the argument is that London’s population is growing but only 63 of those towers are residential and not affordable housing. It’s an amazing venue, it’s a cool place to go out to, I also hear rumours the Vauxhall Tavern is under threat. I hope those rumours are just what they are rumours but I won’t be surprised if it goes, my response to this whole issue is death to gentrification!
Anyway that’s just my rambled opinion on the matter!