Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Merlin Shoes

The sun is streaming through the large shop windows, and Ila Patel is not happy. She had applied for permission to install an awning, but had it turned down. Quite apart from the heat from the sun in the shop, which has meant installing an AC unit, Ila's daughter Heena explains, "the sun bleaches the stock". Meanwhile, the subject generating lots of discussion on this side of the Triangle, is the recent opening of the latest branch of a certain coffee chain, and the fact that they seem to have got away with all sorts of alterations to the exterior of their premises, such as changing the shopfront colour to suit their branding and the removal of the leaded glass feature, despite the fact that other tenants of the building have previously been forbidden to make such changes.
Aside from those issues, Ila has a great rapport with most of the neighbouring traders, who all look out for one another; from the little things like bringing each other a cup of tea, or covering for each other, if someone needs to pop out, to rallying together to support each other when confronted by bigger issues such as the riots of 2011, when many local stores boarded up their windows to protect against the mindless vandalism sweeping the capital at the time. While I'm there, a customer pops in for a chat, and I get the impression the friendly rapport extends to their clientele too. Ila opened Merlin Shoes back in 1992, before most of her neighbours set up shop. Back then, Smash Bang Wallop had been a deli cafe called Jacks, and where the Northwood clinic is now had been Winkworths. Merlins itself had been a florist, and before that, the offices of local solicitors, Amphlett Lissmore. Though no one seems quite sure how and why the premises came to have such wonderful gothic oak panelling. My guess is perhaps it used to be an undertakers. Anyone with a long memory care to enlighten us?
Originally from Kenya, Ila had come to Crystal Palace in 1990, after the death of her husband. Her sister-in-law had been running the Crystal Eye Centre at the time, and suggested to Ila, who wanted to start a business in the area, that the one thing the Triangle lacked was a children's shoe shop. This entailed Ila going off the Start-rite HQ in Norwich to train in shoes sales. While in Norwich, she was fortunate to find pews, which so aptly furnish the shop, being sold off by the cathedral.
While the shop now also stocks adult footwear, the majority of its sales, are in school shoes, and therefore the busy times coincide with the end of school holidays. The ethos is very much about sensible and comfortable footwear, rather than high fashion, which is probably why the shop has been around for so long!

Wish they had these in my size!
The stockroom

Ila Patel and her daughter, Heena