Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Palace Barber Shop

I went to the barber yesterday, for the first time since February or March. Fortunately in the meantime, I have a partner very skilled with the clippers, but felt it was about time I got back to supporting Palace Barber at 62 Westow Hill. I've been getting my hair cut there since they first opened 11 years ago. That must be 60 or so haircuts, greyer with each cut, and although there has inevitably been quite a turnover of staff over the years, the standard is always high. Still holding the fort, is Sam Ahmad, who set it up back in 2009 with his business partner Mario Abdullah. If you've lived here for that long, you may remember it was a stationery and art supplies shop before that. When the shop opened, it was the only barber on that side of the Triangle, but it seems to have been followed by a string of other hair cutting businesses since. Last year, to mark their tenth anniversary, they embarked on a revamp of the spacious premises, and I've been meaning to photograph it ever since. Little could they have known, when they installed extensive banquette seating in the waiting area, that it would allow for the required social distancing we've all become familiar with. As well as smart new workstations, they also added lots of memorabilia, including a collection of antiquated haircutting implements, which make the place feel both established and hip at the same time.

July 4th saw the business reopen when restrictions were lifted, and as expected there was a mad rush of clientele desperate for a trim. Although things were quiet when I visited, on busier days, screens are inserted between stations to keep people as safe as possible. Keeping scissors crossed that there are no further pandemic related disruptions to this longstanding local business.

Sam Ahmad

Monday, 27 July 2020

Backstage: reopened and revisited

As a result of the disruption caused to businesses by lockdown, shops and restaurants have had to rethink and revamp their business model. Heather Morris, the owner of Backstage decided to do away with the hair salon side of her business, to concentrate on the clothing. And she's not just selling off the peg merchandise, but is now making much of it in store.
The front of the store is still the smart boutique selling elegant clothing, and jewellery displayed in Art Deco cabinets, one of which used to be in The Ritz , but in place of the salon stations towards the back, is a cutting table and several vintage sewing machines.
"Setting up a studio to produce clothes within the shop has been a long-held dream of mine", Heather tells me. So her collection of vintage fabrics and sewing machines have now found new purpose. The idea is partly to get away from the wastefulness of 'fast' fashion, and to produce beautifully crafted items that are an art form rather than a disposable commodity. Colourful Liberty prints are turned into beautiful, Japanese inspired Obi belts, as well as more conventional garments.
Heather's stylish store has already been a Westow Street fixture for nearly a decade, and I hope that this forward looking revamp gives it many more years ahead.

A Liberty print Obi belt tied around a vintage Jigsaw mannequin designed by Nigel Coates

The Studio

Heather at work with one of her vintage machines.

47a Westow Street

Monday, 22 June 2020

Westow Hill - ROAD CLOSED

Burst water mains are a perennial gripe in these parts. For some reason the Crystal Palace area seems peculiarly prone to them, and my road must have half a dozen a year.
The latest one to hit Westow Hill, comes at an interesting time. Resurfacing of the road was just nearing completion after overnight works last week, and the Triangle is just emerging from Lockdown, with authorities keen to make more space for pedestrians to enable the returning shoppers, diners and drinkers, to adhere to the new social distancing guidelines.
So, suddenly we have a lot of space right on the Triangle, and as I discovered at the weekend, people are using it, for long awaited socialising, for cycling, scootering and dog walking. The atmosphere was rather wonderful, like an impromptu low-key street party.
The unintended consequences of this unique convergence of a global pandemic and under investment in creeking Victorian infrastructure, has opened our eyes into ways  our local environment might be improved for all. Do we really need such a wide expanse of tarmac? Couldn't we make things a little more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists? The temporary widening of pavements has shown that road space can be re-allocated without things grinding to a halt. It's often argued that closing streets is bad for business, but look how people flocked to Westow Hill over the weekend. After a difficult couple of years, our shops and restaurants desperately need a new strategy. As an example, take a look at Waltham Forest in North London, where its 'Mini Holland' experiment has been a huge success despite misgivings of local traders before its implementation. It seems like right now, we have a golden opportunity to make some changes. If you are interested in having your say, the Crystal Palace Town Team would like to hear from you.
Meanwhile I leave you with pics of Westow Hill like it's never looked before, and a thought. What if, as a start, we could just close the street on Sundays through the summer? We could allow bars and restaurants to spread their tables out into the street, and hopefully give them a chance to make up for their complete lack of business over the last 3 months. Who's up for that?