Local resident Mike Grimshaw meets shop owners to find out more about the problems they face
Bakers Arms, the area surrounding the junction of Lea Bridge Road, Hoe Street and Leyton High Road, is a bustling crossroads. Most businesses are small; cafés, bookmakers, barbers, bookmakers, pubs, bookmakers, pharmacies – did I mention bookmakers?
There are also a number of empty premises, which has led me to investigate the businesses that are still trading to find out about the pressures they face.
Cilem runs The Only Way is Flowers, an independent florist. Over seven years she has done a lot to brighten the appearance of the shop and always has a pleasant smile for customers and passers-by. Waltham Forest Council’s efforts a few years ago to repaint Bakers Arms shopfronts in bright colours helped cheer up the appearance of the area, but at the same time the council insisted on replacing Cilem’s shop sign. Individual letters started falling off, like a smile showing several missing teeth. She ended up replacing it at her own expense.
A recurring problem at Bakers Arms is lack of parking. There are loading bays near The Only Way is Flowers but even as I was speaking to Cilem, the bays nearest to her shop were suspended while pneumatic drills and diggers removed them. Those remaining allow 15 minutes for parking. Before the corner was pedestrianised, there was a slip road where some customers who came by car could briefly stop and pop into the shop. New benches, a welcome sight for weary shoppers, are a magnet for intimidating alcoholics.
With that said, Cilem likes the area generally and has noticed an influx of people from neighbouring boroughs – moving to Waltham Forest because they find it cheaper. Still, she is critical of the local authority: “The council seem to care more about cyclists than small businesses. There ought to be enough room on the streets for everyone.”
A distrust of the council seems to be increasing. Hamid has been running London DIY Centre in Lea Bridge Road for 20 years. He employs five staff, all local, but customers and deliveries need somewhere to park. His business has a rear entrance in Poplar Road, but now that has been blocked off at the Lea Bridge Road end lorries are reluctant to use it to make deliveries. Loading and parking bays on the opposite side are being abolished. Hamid said: “The policy should be to make more roads one-way, not no-through roads. It hasn’t had the effect of reducing the number of cars, it has just re-routed them.”
Another business owner I met was Mr Patel, of Medicos Pharmacy in Hoe Street, who said none of the keyholders for his business live locally. His workers travel by car because they are scared of crime on public transport. He said: “If, as rumoured, Stanley Road Car Park is to close, the pharmacy would have to consider either shortening their opening hours or closing altogether, which would have a negative impact on the community.”
Ronnie, the owner of RJ Gas in Hoe Street for 44 years, has seen footfall reduce dramatically since the Mini Holland cycling scheme was introduced. He said: “The only way I can see the situation being improved now is for the council to re-open the no-through roads.”
Dissatisfaction is running high in Bakers Arms. The future of local shopping is looking bleak.