‘We charge £2 for a coffee and they charge £4.50’: Hackney shops surviving gentrification

Gentrification can sometimes feel inevitable. Areas that were once run-down and left to fend themselves, are sometimes given a makeover and in an instant, become an attractive place for outsiders.

Hackney is a prime example. Historically, Hackney is a very diverse and multi-cultural area. People from all different backgrounds trying to get by and create a life for themselves.

It also had a reputation of being dangerous – a road in Clapton was notoriously referred to as ‘Murder Mile’.

However, in the last 15 years or so, Hackney has seen major development. New build developments on any empty space, coffee shops popping up at alarming rates, (Well Street has around four coffee shops in close proximity) and £1 million properties are no longer a rarity.

Read more: ‘I spent 2 hours in the area I grew up and it’s so gentrified I couldn’t find 1 person actually from there’

With all this development and changing demographic, many beloved shops have closed down as they can’t afford to continue.

This and That off of Well Street was a staple in the community for years, Percy Ingles, a beloved bakery in East London had to close its doors due to losses from the pandemic.

Gentrification has impacted shops and housing throughout Hackney but there are a number of them still going strong

With all these losses, stemming from rising rent prices to big competitors coming in, what made Hackney what it is, has changed.

Thankfully, there are still shops that have been ever-present in the face of gentrification and changing face of the area.

Sam, 40, who runs Quality Cafe in Well Street, spoke to MyLondon about what it’s like in Hackney.

They have been serving Hackney for at least 50 years (if not closer to 100) and has been the go-to place for locals.

He said: “I grew up in Hackney, went to school around here and have been working here for 20 years.

“In that time, I’ve seen the days where you wouldn’t want to walk down Well Street after 5 pm. To now, after 6 pm it becomes the entertainment area.

“From the 1990s to now, it’s a completely different area.”

The café has the traditional feel of what you expect a café to be like.

Blue seats and tables, the day’s paper waiting to be picked up and sauce bottles carefully placed. It is what you imagine a British café to be.

A customer spoke up as he sipped his coffee: “There are too many coffee shops on the street. They’re asking about a double shot in a small cup. Ridiculous.”

Sometimes, sitting on plain blue seats is all you really want

Sometimes, sitting on plain blue seats is all you really want

Sam added: “The café business has changed. Before it would be a mix of everyone, a proper peoples place – rich, poor, builders, people nursing a hangover, all mixing but now, that level has changed.

“Now, with these ‘trendy’ coffee shops, we charge £2 for a coffee and they charge £4.50. It’s a higher class or lower class – nobody mixing.

“I think if you tried to do a café like ours today, it would struggle. You’ve got to aim for the younger generation but it’s hard for me.

“It’s like I’m in between the older and younger generation so I will need to make a decision – do I stay as we are or aim for the young.”

There is avocado on toast insight at Quality Cafe and that's how the people like it

There is no avocado on toast insight at Quality Cafe and that’s how the people like it

Shabba Hair and Cosmetics on Kingsland High Street, Dalston has been one of the go-to hair and beauty shops for people from ethnic backgrounds for years. It provides a wide range of products that you can’t get everywhere and has been in Dalston for nearly 10 years.

Along with Paks Cosmetics, they have been providing the community with options they can’t get elsewhere.

JD runs Shabba and he spoke about what he is worried about when it comes to gentrification and the area changing.

“We can see that a lot of afro-Caribbean people have moved out of the area due to the increasing prices. They just can’t afford it.

“And then with even the shops, they can’t afford the rent and then the high street starts looking the same.”

JD is worried for the future as the 'shops that attracted people to Dalston are no longer here.

JD is worried for the future as the ‘shops that attracted people to Dalston are no longer here.”

Walking down Kingsland High Street, you would be greeted by a number of big-name coffee shops and restaurants.

Having options is good but when all that choice comes at the expense of the community, is that a positive?

Ridley Road Market is one of London’s most iconic markets and that area is getting a £1 million upgrade.

JD doesn’t see the market being improved as such an urgent issue and is worried that the improvements aren’t actually for the people who need it most.

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He said: “There have been numerous petitions throughout the years against their plans for the market.

“It feels like the changes are only going to benefit the few, not the majority.

“The shops that attracted people to the area are no longer here. I hope in 10 years we can still be here but we just don’t know with the way things are going.”

Shabba Hair and Cosmetics has been the go-to hair shop for Afro-Caribbean people in Hackney

Shabba Hair and Cosmetics has been the go-to hair shop for Afro-Caribbean people in Hackney

Mustafa runs PC and Mac Doctor on Mare Street, E8. He opened it in 2011 and has been servicing and repairing parts for the local community ever since.

He said: “The biggest problem with gentrification is the big fishes taking what they want.

“The rich are taking over in the borough. My business has changed a bit in the last 10 years, but nothing major.

“In terms of my clientele, it’s been okay.”

With the pandemic and the strain on businesses, what Hackney looks like now, could be entirely different in the future.

As gentrification seems like an inevitable outcome, it is warming to see a number of businesses still trying to display the diversity and inclusion that made Hackney what it is.

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