Algerian Coffee Stores through the years....
Hello and Welcome to our March blog!
We thought this month we would do a little introduction to our shop and its history; we also have some fabulous old photos of the shop, its people, and some papers.
Algerian Coffee Stores was opened in 1887 by an Algerian gentleman called Mr. Hassan. That is where we get our name from. Unfortunately, we know very little about him or the shop back then. No records were kept, that we have found. All we have is this photo of him and the staff, below, it is one of our most treasured photos. Quite a few years ago Paul did meet Mr. Hassan’s granddaughter, she came to the shop one day to visit.
The shop was then sold in 1928 to a Belgian man called Mr. Boerman. He retained the name and grew the business. The shop was still open for trading during World War II, and we are so very lucky to have survived any bombing as many parts of Soho were hit, including our neighbours. The photo below is from May 1941, and you can see that the Admiral Duncan and establishments to their right were destroyed.
Another photo shows our window boarded up for security, a part of it has been damaged by shrapnel from a nearby bomb.
In 1946 the shop was sold to an English gentleman, Mr. Jones, our grandfather.
Paul Crocetta joined Algerian Coffee Stores when he moved to London from Naples, Italy, after he married Mr. Jones’ daughter, Francesca, our mum – This year he has been here for 50 years!
After Mr. Jones passed away in the late 70’s Paul took over the business.
Paul and Francesca had two wonderful daughters (ahem) Daniela and Marisa....and we are here too! It is mainly us at the helm nowadays as we try and get Dad to have a very well-earned break.
Daniela and I have always come to work to “help” Dad out since we were little, but we have made things a little more permanent since then – and are now actually helpful! Daniela has been here full time for about 26 years and me, I am going to guess about 18 years.
Algerian Coffee Stores has always had a wonderful variety of coffee, we have found an old coffee stock sheet showing coffee bought in 1944 and the following years, you can see coffees from India, Jamaica, Cameroon, Madagascar, Congo, Brazil - today we have even more, and are always looking for new and exciting coffees to bring to you. The coffee stock sheet shows how many sacks were bought of each lot, rotation numbers (this is a location number to find it in the coffee warehouses), price, and which warehouse the coffee is held at - the paperwork is from 1944, and today, 78 years later, we do things pretty much the same way!
The shop has sold a wonderful variety of goods alongside coffee beans over the years. We have always had a lovely selection of coffee machines; you can see them displayed in the shop and window throughout all the photos. We also used to sell fine French wines, mainly Bordeaux and Burgundy, Madeira, and Port! Paul even remembers a bottle of Cockburn 1955 used to retail at £6.50 a bottle. We have even found a few bottles of Port that had been forgotten about from the 1960s, we plan to enjoy them over a leisurely cheeseboard one evening! The bottles were stored in tea chests in our cellar for customers. Once they bought them, the bottles were labelled with their name until the customer was ready to collect and enjoy them. Below is a photo of our grandfather, Mr. Jones sampling some fine wines to buy. He the gentleman knocking it back (I know where I get it from!)
We no longer sell alcohol but today we still have a lovely selection of machines, a large selection of loose-leaf teas and a delicious variety of confectionery. You can see that our selection, and prices, have increased since our 1977 tea pricelist below.
Although we now occupy the whole building that was not always the case. On the first floor there used to be a Dentist, you can see the sign for him in the photo during the war, and on the upper floors’ families used to live there. In 2005 Paul had the privilege to meet Lucy and Tony who used to live on the top floor of our building, the wonderful story is that Lucy was born on the top floor in 1917, and in 1937 gave birth to her son Tony on the top floor also. We were luck to be sent photos from their visit, below.
Obviously, areas of the shop have changed over the years, but we try to not change too much and to retain the character. Our counter is still the original counter and so are the shelves.
The glass paving in front of the shop used to be a hatch, and raw coffee was delivered and passed down through there into the cellar. Paul recounts that there was a knack to offloading the sacks. Each sack was about 70KG, so as the sack was slid down a ramp into the cellar, you had to stop the sack at a certain point, turn yourself around and load the sack on to your shoulders, to then carry it to the correlating pile of sacks stored in the cellar. Drop it, and you’ll need a couple of people to pick it back up again! To create our famous house blends an empty coffee sack was put on large cast iron scales (that remain in our cellar!), and the various raw coffees were weighed into the sacks and mixed. It was tough and heavy work, blending perhaps 24 sacks of just one blend, each sack weighing 56lbs. At our weekly coffee delivery, the sacks of blended raw coffee were swapped for roasted coffee. Here is Paul below with the piles of raw coffee sacks.
With such a heritage behind the store comes a heritage of customers, we are so very lucky to hear of the generations of families visiting us. Customers who remember shopping here with their grandparents as children and still shopping with us today. We also have a customer, a lovely lady, who Paul remembers coming shopping with her parents as a child and he always used to give her sweets from the sweet jar, and she still visits us – and sometimes still even gets a sweet off Paul! We love getting to know our customers, and we often stop for a chat in person or on the phone with many.
Once just flat farmland the development of Soho began around the 1670’s around Golden Square, the first houses were erected in Frith Street and Greek Street in the 1680’s and by the early 1690’s Dean Street, Old Compton Street, and Wardour had been developed. Many Soho streets still retain their original name. Frith Street is named after the developer Robert Frith who built the houses there, likewise, Bridle Lane after the developer Abraham Bridle, Beak Street after its developer Thomas Beake and Broad Street - later changed to Broadwick street to distinguish it from others of the same name. And the Countess of Carlisle lived in a large residence on the west side of Soho Square leading to the name Carlisle Street.
At first Soho was largely populated by aristocrats and other members of the upper class, especially around Golden and Soho Square, but soon also provided refuge for Greek Christians and French Huguenots fleeing war and persecution. And the House of St. Barnabas on Greek Street was established in 1846 as a refuge for vagrant women, today it is a non-residential charity helping the homeless.
However, Soho never had an overall landowner to ensure the quality of buildings or tenants and by the mid-18th century the area was in decline and the aristocracy and upper classes started to move elsewhere and by the mid-19th century they had mostly gone. Soho was badly hit by an outbreak of cholera in 1854, many died and those that survived did so as they turned out to be drinking something a little stronger than the water!
The photo below is from early 20th century, we believe the lady at the window could be Lucy's mother.
Soho has always attracted a vast array of characters. It is what makes Soho, Soho. Almost from the beginning artisans, traders and immigrants moved into the many streets of Soho. For much of the 20th century, Soho was the base for the sex industry in London. In recent years the gentrification of the area has left only a few remnants of the sex industry and now Soho is now a fashionable district, full of upmarket restaurants and bars with many media offices and studios.
The face of Soho has changed throughout the years in so many ways. I suppose places will always change and take on new forms, we have seen many shops, residents and friends come and go. What is beautiful is that you can come to Soho and be who you want to be and that is a rare quality. However, throughout it all, one thing remains, Algerian Coffee Stores, since 1887.
I hope you have enjoyed our brief look at the history of Algerian Coffee Stores and our photos. We have so many more to share with you so look out for our future blogs and social media.
Bye for now, Marisa x