The small businesses of Soho.
Happy New Year (can we still say that?) and welcome to our first blog of 2023!
It is great to start the year off with some positive news! I Camisa & Son on Old Compton Street has had a reprieve and will not be closing for the moment; they have negotiated a two-year lease extension.
For those that are not familiar with Soho, I Camisa & Son is an Italian delicatessen just a few doors away from us. Originally opened in 1929 by brothers Ennio and Isidoro Camisa at 66 Old Compton Street, however, during the war they were detained in a camp and the store had to close. After the war, the Camisa brothers returned to Soho, and opened a new shop on Berwick Street. After many years in business together, the brothers decided to part ways and Isidoro opened his own store in 1961, back in Old Compton Street, though this time at number 61, where the deli still stands today as I Camisa & Son and is still a traditional “salumeria”. (I Camisa & Sons, below)
Since news broke that I Camisa were due to close we have had many customers approach us concerned that we may also be in difficulty. We will be very honest, we are ok - for the moment. We are still busy, but there was a noticeable drop in orders and footfall during November and December. With costs continuing to increase and the impending Cost of Living crisis we are not sure what storm may be ahead. But as always, we will fight. If we do find we are struggling you will all be the first to know, so please do not fret - and don’t listen to any rumors or gossip, we have heard some curious stories about us.
Through chatting to so many of you we have also realised that there are a few misconceptions about us, here are the two most popular cleared up...
We are a true independent, family run business, there is no silent owner, no secret big boss, just Paul (aka Dad), me and Daniela. And the entire operation is run from our store in Soho. And we are a just a small team, generally about 10 of us in total.
Many people also assume we own the building that the shop is in - my answer to this is always the same (including when I accidently blurted it out whilst being interviewed on BBC radio) “Do I look like I am on a beach sipping a Pina Colada?!” Ha-ha, oops! No, we do not own the building, we rent it. Our landlords are private landlords (If we had the usual big boss landlords of Soho who knows if we would still be here) and have been the same landlords from the very beginning. So, we still have our rent to cover, amongst all other costs, if we didn’t, we would probably be a little more nonchalant with our hours.
Often when small, local, independent, and long-standing businesses are threatened with closure there is an outpouring of support and protest that yet another small business has succumbed, but what small businesses really need to survive, and thrive is continuous support. Without support throughout the year the struggles and bills mount up.
Soho has changed so much over the years, it used to be filled with independent shops and was quite a place to shop. During his 50 years here, Paul remembers there was Ortega, a Spanish deli with vats of olives, Bi Fulco the butchers, Roche - a French cheese monger, Richards - a fishmonger, Mr. Pew - a diary (where me and Daniela used to get sandwiches as children), a greengrocers, Rupert Street had a fruit & veg market, there was a sausage shop on Berwick Street. There was Moroni, a newsagent that sold Italian newspapers, Colemans - a cigar shop, Gamba - selling dancers’ shoes. And let us not forget the original Patisserie Valerie, I have too many memories in there! The area thrived, these specialty shops sold goods that you couldn’t find elsewhere, people made the special journey to come to shop- and on Saturdays there was free parking!
There are still quite a few places to come and shop and support in and around Soho. Let us take a moment to celebrate some of our neighbours. Apart from getting your delicious coffee, tea and chocolate from us, and your cheese/salami/pasta from I Camisa & Son, Gerry’s Wines and Spirits have practically every sort of alcohol you can think of - a fabulous place to find a new drink, and perfect for gifts (many of my friends get given a bottle!) and they often have a tasting going on! (Gerry's, below)
If Whiskey is your thing there is the Vintage House, they have been around since the 40’s and have a huge array of whisky and fine wines - as well as a great range of cigars! There is also Milroys, a beautiful shop on Greek Street they have been selling whisky since 1964, and there is even a lovely little bar to have a dram - or two.
(The inside of The Vintage House, and Milroy's, below)
If you would like to take a treat home or rest your weary feet Maison Bertaux is where you need to go! They have been baking on the premises since 1871. They have delicious croissants, cream teas, eclairs, and slices of cakes.
With the growth of supermarkets and the availability of goods within them, rising rents, stricter parking rules, parking costs and so on, businesses are faltering. The world of online shopping also affects many businesses. You can get all your goods sent to you; you do not even have to leave your house. It is getting harder to make that special trip or detour to visit a special little shop, but it is so important that we do, when we can.
Small, independent businesses are needed to make neighbourhoods. They bring character and variety, you feel that you shop with more meaning when you visit one, and they can also bring a community together.
If you are shopping with a small business another way to help support them is to pay in cash if they accept it. Each card transaction has a fee attached to it, and though the percentage may seem small they accumulate to hundreds of pounds a month.
If you are making a trip to Soho, we would love to see you. Pop in for a double espresso, still only £1.00!
I was Assistant Art Director in 1985 on “Full Metal Jacket”.We were moving the Art Dept. From Stanley’s house north of St Albans to Becton Gas Works.Stanley said “I want good coffee when I come to visit the Art Dept”. So he sent me to your Stores, I bought his favourite the Algerian Special.I was so impressed that since that day, I have always bought my coffee from you.
I live overseas now, but come to buy coffee every time I’m home, it is the best.
I also buy from the lovely deli down the road.
I always sing your praises because I really want you to stay in business
Always love calling in when we’re in London. If we didn’t live in Yorkshire, we’d be there every day. Ordering online is the best we can do but hoping every little helps.
Best wishes to a great little shop.
I live in Wiltshire but work in London, and since discovering your store a number of years ago have been buying my coffee from you. Mostly in person, and to have an espresso. Another interesting blog and a gentle reminder to us all to use or lose our independent shops, the best of which are full of specialist knowledge and actually offer better value than the faceless corporates. I shall be visiting in a few weeks with some friends, one recently returned to drinking coffee, another already a coffee fan, to treat them to some of your excellent coffee.
I just wish I lived closer to you. I’m afraid Coventry is a bit out to pop to London for the day, especially as you get older. I have to pay by card, same reason. However I love your coffee and order regularly, also tea and chocolate. And I’m learning Italian – one simple reason, I need the brain exercise! I’ve done this before, I was born in the old Czechoslovakia, we had to learn Russian but fortunately I like languages.
I just got my latest order from you this week. It arrived quickly as ever and opening the box is always such a joy. I am a big supporter of your monthly offers and specials and have discovered so many great and individual coffees that way. I myself run an independent shop and know how tough it is. More support on rates for indi shops would help, as would a longer continuation of the energy rebates.
I’ve lived in Soho since 1993 and the Algerian Coffee Stores is still my favourite neighborhood shop <3
Thank you so much for the excellent news that Camisa’s is continuing .I was deeply upset towards Xmas when I received the awful news of its impending closure as I have been shopping there, en route to buy my coffee from your wonderful shop for some forty years like so many others.
I never thought about the transactions fees when I buy my bags of coffee. Cash it is from now on for me! I love reading your blogs. Thank you for sharing your local knowledge. I’ll be back this week with cash for some more Bolivian!
OK, I will pay in cash for my beans and get a double shot when I’m next in! 😀 It is too easy these days to think those contactless payments charges are less impactful for companies, good that you highlight that’s not the case. Coming into London so many places are cashless now, you forgot too easily the cost behind this all. In this day and age it is so nice to come to a family run business, and get a quality product, please don’t ever change!
Terrific post, with a lot I didn’t know. Are Camisa & Lina related? I’m a newcomer, but when I first came to London 40 years ago I spent a lot of time in cutting rooms in Soho. (It was me who told you that Francis Bacon used to buy not only his coffee but his peppercorns from you.) Randall & Aubin used to be my butcher – two Irish guys.
Anyway, many congratulations, and I’m waiting on tenterhooks for the next time you put “Monsoon Malabar” as your coffee of the month.
So enjoyed this blog post! It is a huge part of your charm that you are so ‘of your neighbourhood’. Now I am languishing far away and missing my most beloved parts of London, a very special morning coffee courtesy of Algerian Coffee Stores is a treat on many levels. I’ll be telling my whisky buff friend about Milroys and be back in touch with another order before long
Thank you. A lovely read, I’ll certainly be checking out some of the places you mentioned the next time I’m in town.
Thanks for this it is so interesting.
Soho is changing so fast but thank goodness I Camisa has a reprieve, I love that shop and I love yours.
Lovely blog, and I really enjoyed reading about all the specialised shops in the area.
Thanks for all the great service.
Was very happy to read your blog & to know that you are continuing to survive in these difficult times. Was delighted to read that Camisa is not closing for the foreseeable future. Although I no longer live in London I have been shopping in Old Compton Street since the 1960s & used to eat at the Amalfi (sadly no longer there)
Happy New Year. Hope it is a good one.
We love you so keep battling on.
From a big fan from Cornwall.
Thank you. Love your blogs, esp this one.
We live too far away now to visit your shop. Only rarely can we call in.
But we still love your coffee, by post.
All the very best to you all.
So sad to hear of the trouble so many of our old friends in your area seem to be having
You’re a truly noble family and I wish you the very best of luck
Happy New Year
A wonderful article. And a reminder of the Long heritage of independent businesses in Soho. Long may they survive, but more importantly,Long may we support them so they can survive and maybe thrive!