Brick lane is an epicentre of small and medium size businesses, these businesses not only sustain the families that own and run them but they also serve the community.
When those that settled in Brick lane originally moved to East London there was little to no choice if they planned on feeding their families other than to set-up some sort of self-sustaining income. This is why the area has become what it is today. Immigration and the families it brought with it meant that there was no choice other than to trade their skills and knowledge for survival.
Businesses in Brick lane
Just about every conceivable business is visible and active in the area, but predominantly the area of business the area is famous for are the curry houses. These restaurants are a large reason why people flock to the area, and without them it is true that the area would be a completely different landscape.
Mixed in with the restaurants are of course newer establishments that have popped up to cater for the influx of tourists that the restaurants bring. Including but not limited to fashion-wear and jewellery.
More recently there has been the opening of payday loan shops along the street including the hotly debated Simple Payday that sits on the East side of the street towards Taylors Yard. I say hotly debated as these new types of poor credit loans have become a bone of contention with many in the area.
The fight against payday loans in Brick Lane
Local residents and established businesses have over the last few months clashed with the store on more than one occasion. This is in large part because of the stores drive towards lending to businesses in the local community and the level of interest charged.
In the world of the small business, it pretty much goes without saying that from time to time there will be the call for small amounts of cash here and there to address unexpected expenses. From bills to all manner of inevitable growing pains, it is simply impossible for any small business to get by without occasionally asking for help. Until now, the only source of help available to small businesses within the area has been the High Street banks specialising in small business loans and services.
Since the influx of payday lenders more and more store owners have been using these loans, with the use of these loans even being addressed at a community meeting about businesses in the area. The friction between the store and the local community rests on the fact that perhaps businesses that were already struggling are being lumbered with further debt. The argument between the community and these loan lenders is that they are not vetting the applicants to a good enough standard. With some running into difficulty and having to roll-over loans.
The gentrification of Brick Lane
The problem of short term loan lenders moving into the area is not the only grievance local residents and businesses have. Recently there has been a handful of shops opening along the street catering for a more glamorous echelon of Londoner. This includes a Versace Vs store and a uber-trendy cereal cafe called ‘Cereal killer.’
The opening of this recent addition to the small business landscape in Brick lane even saw protesters descend on the shop to demonstrate against what they feel are prices non-reflective of the community.
The protesters argument is economically sound as they point to the prices that these new shops are charging and the average salary in the surrounding area. This they say will only lead one-way, rents being increased in the area and established local-run businesses having to vacate as the big chains such as Starbucks and Costa move in. Both of these Coffee shops are planning a Brick Lane premises at the moment.
I have personally spoken to several shop-owners and the feeling is that the increase in premiums due to the willingness of big businesses to pay these prices will only drive local-run businesses out.
This family-run bagel shop has been on the street since 1855 and is open 24 hours. it has become an iconic part of the area and is synonymous with the area’s history and heritage. the shop attracts visitors from all over the world and has been featured on news and factual programmes as far as China and Australia. it typifies the type of business that might be forced out if big business move in.
This fashion outlet specialises in leather goods and biker wear. The owner has been here for the last 31-years. I spoke with the owner Barry who told me he was now shutting down due to the lack of interest in leather in the area compared to previous years. “The area used to be renowned for leather goods, but slowly those have been pushed out in favour of a new style of vintage store.” he said as we admired the sunset that evening.
The changing face of Brick Lane
40-years ago you could walk down Brick lane and buy anything from a caged canary to cats, dogs and jellied eels. The area was a mismatch of different cultures and beliefs but was dominated by the single theme of poverty. Those that moved to the area did so out of economic reasons. Over the years the area has seen changes in terms of the immigrants moving there. Whether this signals the end of that and the start of big business moving in remains to be seen.
I feel that a balance should and I hope will be met between the existing residents and new shops like the cereal bar. The thing these businesses need to understand however, is that this is a predominantly poor area and probably will stay that way for the foreseeable future. So when the crowds leave after a weekend of high shopping and drinking, the ones that will be walking past their shops during the week will be the residents and not the visitors from West London.