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!