Early closing time

<strong>Shutting Up Shop: the Decline of the Traditional Shop</strong>

John Londei <em>Dewi Lewis

Corkers, cobblers, chemists: John Londei leaves few specialists unnoted in this delectable photographic documentary of independent retailers, shot over 15 years beginning in the early 1970s. With recession looming in every still, it is a sociological and visual testament to those who strove to defy the march of time armed only, in some cases, with wicker baskets and kosher meats.

The shopkeepers stand proud against the faded beauty of their boutiques, their oral idiosyncrasies adding further flavour. “I’ll go down with the shop!” screams Maurice Apostle, lifelong proprietor of Apostle’s Buttons. “Now and then it feels as though it’s been a bloody waste of time,” laments Fred Butler after 45 years at Fred Butler & Sons, butchers. Often, the introductions are enough: “Philip Poole had sold pen nibs for 59 years.”

Both pensive and nostalgic, Londei’s commentary speaks of an evolving Britain. An “afterword” reveals that only seven of the shops featured still stand today, their replacements indicative of the erosion of a distinct neighbourhood and community culture. As he notes: “The way the high street looks now says a lot about the way we treat each other and the world around us.”

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Now it gets really dirty