Is Highgate High Street 'the best it's been for a decade'?
- Credit: Polly Hancock
Highgate High Street is "the best its been for a decade", but some have pleaded with locals not to desert it post-pandemic.
Renowned for its independent shops, cafes and popular pubs, the High Street has survived a difficult year says Highgate Society chair Elspeth Clements.
"The shops that provide food and services have done ok during the lockdown, those who have delivered have done very well, and those who have not, have suffered," she said. "In general the High Street is the best it's been for a decade."
But while Highgate councillor Liz Morris celebrated the increased footfall during Covid, she warned that valuable community assets could be lost if people desert the High Street as lockdown eases.
"It feels as if residents and visitors have rediscovered our lovely high street and I hope this continues post-lockdown and that people remain loyal to the local businesses that have served them so well during the pandemic," she said.
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Pubs such as The Flask, The Red Lion & Sun, The Angel Inn, and The Bull boast outdoor space that allowed limited opening when restrictions eased. But the well-loved Prince of Wales suffered during the pandemic because it doesn't have a beer garden.
"The open and closing, and added restrictions on hospitality over the past year has had a massive impact on our business," said landlord Paul McAstocker. "All of our earnings are in hospitality and events which has pretty much not existed the past year."
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As a result he co-founded his "lockdown proof' independent beer and wine shop Bottle in November. Meanwhile family run Highgate distillery Sacred Gin also opened a new shop on the High Street last June.
Despite launching during a challenging time, both appeal to a growing trend for craft, artisan tipples and locals have embraced the new arrivals.
Hilary Whitney, who runs Sacred Gin with partner Ian Talbot, says the High Street has come a long way from being "mostly empty units and charity shops".
"Covid has meant people's attitudes have changed, they're now getting the idea that you can shop in the area and get quality ingredients or products without going anywhere else," she said.
Avril Castellazzo owner of WCD Interiors, agrees Highgate currently has more independent cafes, shops and restaurants than ever before.
"Shops have upped their game to look more attractive, Village Flowers have set out beautiful displays enticing customers throughout Covid," said Avril, who believes the key to a successful Highgate business is to offer something "extra special".
"Local needs to be local. You don't want the big chains coming in, you want lovely independents that are doing something good for you, and we have that in Highgate."
Essential services have been vital to the high street's survival. Greens of Highgate, which recently moved to a larger store next door to the Cut Barbershop, Limone Fine Foods, the Highgate Butchers and Highgate Wholefoods continued a brisk trade during the lockdowns.
And while there are still five charity shops and eight estate agents, it doesn't impact the High Street's identity thanks to the new arrivals.
Liz Morris agrees the variety of food and drink options has "greatly improved" with five cafes, most of which are new, ranging from chains such as Gail's, Costa and Cafe Nero, to The Juice Moose and independent bakery The Highgate Pantry.
New arrivals include British & Mediterranean cuisine from Turquoise Kitchen, and Indian Street food restaurant Namaaste, alongside chains such as Côte and Pizza Express, and the independent Village Deli serving fresh dishes at reasonable prices.
One change in the past decade is the rise of grooming and wellbeing shops including Lavender on the Hill, Maloui Hairdressers, Nail Luxury, Dobney London Hair Salon, BBC3 Hair Studio, Art Hair, and The Cut Barbers.
Independent galleries include Avison Gallery and Highgate Contemporary Art bring quality exhibitions, while long-standing essential services include Brooksby News, Highgate Vet, Optometrist, First Choice Dry Cleaners, Highgate Book Store, and Highgate Stationers.
Despite a campaign by The Highgate Society, the High Street's Post Office closed in 2008, and the subsequent closures of Lloyds Bank and Barclays Bank has left residents frustrated at the dearth of ATMS and banking services.
Looking to the future Liz Morris would like to see children's shops open on the High Street and a much-needed cashpoint installed. Elspeth Clements believes Highgate would benefit from a high-quality fishmonger, and Hilary Whitney is hoping to see the return of an extravagant Christmas display and the carols that were missed due to last year's restrictions.
A potential threat is the governments' proposals to allow the conversion of shops and offices into housing and The Highgate Society is among many organisations to raise concerns about the impact this would have for the community.
What changes would you like to see on Highgate High Street? Contact email@example.com