Bows and Wardrobes, Time Capsule Café, Gina’s Closet, Zealand Road Coffee and The Stables are all names of little shops and cafes, new or refurbished, that have cropped up in a 100m stretch of Roman Road in Bow.
Where previously there were blank spaces, or hard-to -remember newsagents and take-aways, now there is a transformation underway.
Last summer Roman Road won investment from the government as part of the campaign to save Britain’s highstreets, linked to the Mary Portas report into recession-damaged town centres. Portas herself has featured Roman Road in an upcoming TV series about the issue.
At, Bows and Wardrobes, owner Melissa told ELL: “I’ve been open two months and it is tough. It’s the winter, but it’s great working so close to where I live – I have a 56 second commute”.
Her shop sells clothes, scarves, jewellery and ornaments. Something about the name and the way the shop is nicely laid out made me ask if Mary Portas and her team had anything to do with it.
“No!” she laughs, “Everyone thinks Mary Portas did my shop! She isn’t the only one who can make a shop look nice.”
“There are a lot of places opening up – there is a new café and a new art gallery is going to open up down the road, it’s nice.”
She is right, two more places are not quite set up to open yet – the art gallery and a minimalist-looking clothes store. Further along is Gina’s Closet, a secondhand-furniture store that has been a feature of the road for 20 years and has been in the local news for having a “Portas makeover”.
Its owner, Janette, described the shop as it used to be as a “jumble sale”, without so much as an official shop name. Now with a new sign and fresh paint the shop looks inviting.
But Janette is not convinced the makeover has really impacted her sales.The Portas technique was to make the shop look arty or vintage, but what brings the sales up, according to the owner, is passing trade.
“[Portas] was fine and it looks nice, but I wouldn’t have been able to survive with the minimal stock she wanted to have in it. My sales have been more or less the same.”
“It’s the volume of people on the street that makes the difference,” she continued. Any new businesses here are good for my business; it gets people walking past.”
At the new café, Time Capsule is a folk-styled café with perhaps too much chintz but a pleasant atmosphere all the same and good, reasonably-priced food.
The man behind the till is the owner’s cousin. He was positively beaming about the media attention both the area and his café has been getting. “Yesterday the BBC were around here with cameras,” he said, “and we’ve been in East End Life”.
The attention is deserved, I think. Local residents are taking things into their own hands, volunteering and setting up businesses to make a difference in their neighbourhood.