Corner shops, to me, are an essential part of my life in London. From late night sugar cravings, panicky realisations you’ve run out of toilet paper, to last minute nights out and needing a litre of the cheapest spirit as soon as possible; corner shops are always there for you.
As suggested in the name, rarely will you see a street in London without a colourful library of food and drink on at least one of its corners. Offering goods from across the world served a lot of the time by generations of the same family; corner shops provide me with that warm comfort I’d get from the village shop back home.
There are over 40,000 corner shops across the whole of England and Wales, having seen an increase by 21% in the last five years alone even with corporate chains such as Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s being fierce competition. And even still, their sales are worth a fifth of the grocery sector.
According to a 2017 Waitrose report, one in 10 people decide what to buy for their evening meal just before they eat it – often shopping for it on their way home from work. The “pop to the shop” routine is back in vogue and the convenience store market is forecast to grow by 17.6% between 2018 and 2023.
More importantly, the corner shop remains a lifeline for many communities. Refugees who have fled the civil war in Sri Lanka can now be seen behind counters across the UK. The Afghan community who have left a homeland burdened by war to seek a better life abroad can also be spotted opening shutters of local shops in the early hours. And since Poland joined the EU in 2004, Poles have made no apologies for setting up shop, too.
Crucially; corner shops provide livelihoods to generations of families across the UK. But for the customers, it’s about having a known face in the community – a person or a family who are keeping an eye on things. That one person you can always depend on, be it for the milk for your cup of tea, or even a little chat and a smile when you’re feeling down. Particularly in London, corner shop culture is something so unique to the city, and I feel nothing but appreciation to my local corner shop man.
Photographed by Ana Blumenkron