Today, Saturday 28th of May 2016 will be a sad day for the community living around Northwood road, a little enclave of Victorian houses off the Archway road, close to Highgate but not enough to be posh and inaccessible for regular human beings. Today Northwood Dairy will close after 30 years.
Northwood Dairy wasn’t just a convenience store; it was a magic bazaar where you could find anything: from fresh fruit to light bulbs, from curtain whiteness to Thai curry, from baby food to tennis balls. No matter what I was looking for, chances were I could find it in that tiny shop across the street. And if they didn’t have it, you could be sure Jay would provide it for you. And that wasn’t all. Northwood Dairy for 30 years has provided not only a service but a sense of community. Because the family who ran it, the Patel, made everyone feel welcome. They had a word for everyone, a smile, a joke. They knew the names of everyone in the neighborhood. They knew their stories. Something totally forgotten in big cities. Northwood Dairy was a success story, the proof multi-culturalism not only works but can bring people together. Because this Indian family, with their thick accents and their TVs broadcasting cricket and Bollywood movie so, was a point of reference for everyone, old English pensioners, trendy international professionals, Polish builders. They represented London at its best. If you walked into the shop at around 7pm an amazing flavour of curry and spices would come from their flat upstairs. But you also had the clear sense of being in an English village, a place where people were polite, welcoming, and smiling. Kay, Jay, Sandy, Hary (their anglicised names, nobody know their real ones) were always ready for a chat, a joke, a laugh. When I locked myself out, they came and helped me out. When I had neighbours from hell they were supportive. If I had spent a whole day working at home, alone, a trip to the shop meant the chance to be greeted me with a booming “hello Lara!” It made me feel better.
I never felt alone in my little flat because I knew that if I needed anything – whether food, gossips or an whether you phone call – I knew there was that little place across the street that I could see from my window, and the lovely people working there.
They got to know my boyfriend, my sister, my best friends. And I wasn’t unique. They treated all their customers as friends. They have seen children growing up, people getting married… Their own children have gone from babies to young professionals in front of us. Northwood Dairy was surely destined not to last forever because the young generation wouldn’t be working there, but the Patels could have gone on until retirement age… But gentrification hit. In the form of supermarkets. Sainsburys opened about three years ago. And another chain is opening up on the premises occupied for decades by the antique shop Richardson of Highgate. The wealthy people who are now the only ones buying properties in my part of London don’t care about a community they don’t know, use the supermarkets and bypass the convenience stores. Northwood Dairy lost out and eventually was forced to close. It will be turned into flats. Like the pub next door, like every single piece of land in this city. Flats none of us can afford buying.
The whole neighbourhood got together and threw the Patels a street party.
They arrived elegantly dressed, quite embarrassed at first by the idea of being at the centre of the attention. People brought food, drinks, music. Hary made a speech, his voice broken, and even the local paper came out to take pictures:
I felt tears in my eyes as I was going to lose some loyal friends, some amazing neighbours and a piece of London that we’ll never get back.
Goodbye little store, goodbye my friends. You will be missed