An occasional series looking at what’s new & what’s changed on Lavender Hill
A while back we looked in some detail at what the proposals for a merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s would mean for Lavender Hill – given we have one of the most profitable Asda supermarkets of all, set in the middle of an area otherwise quite dominated by Sainmsbury’s. Well – the proposed merger is now off, as it was blocked by the competition regulators. Asda’s US owners have said they’ll provide Asda with what it needs to carry on, and as we understand it the business as a whole is making a reasonable profit – so no major changes expected. It’s possible that Asda’s owners, now that the distraction of the merger has gone, will take a longer term view on the future of the chain – and the London store is one of their most profitable as well as one of the sites with the strongest redevelopment potential – but we wouldn’t expect anything in the near future.
The other big retail story, though, was of course, Debenhams – with the shock announcement that Debenhams in Wimbledon, as well as the nearly-new Debenhams in Wandsworth, are set to close after Christmas, as part of a wider programme that will see 22 stores close and 1,200 people lose their jobs. The Clapham Junction branch – which is one of their busier branches, and which always saw greater footfall than Wandsworth despite the smaller size and more old fashioned layout – is not on the closure list. But it’s not out of the woods yet – we understand that it is one of 100 or so stores where Debenhams’ new owners are asking the landlords for rent reductions, and also asking the local Councils for a corresponding reduction in business rates (which are essentially a tax on shops). We don’t have the precise figures but it’s been reported that in at least 58 cases, they’re asking for a roughly 50% cut in rates! Debenhams has only recently acquired a new landlord, after the 140,000 square foot property was sold by major landholder British Land to a London-based developer called W Real Estate, for £48 million
Generally speaking, where landlords agree to such cuts, they also secure flexibility – e.g. to throw out the tenants if a better offer comes along in future years. W Real Estate’s long term plans aren’t too clear, though their managing director has said: “This acquisition underpins our philosophy of acquiring exceptional real estate in core London locations. The building sits at the epicentre of Clapham Junction’s retail hub. With its proximity to Europe’s busiest train station and the potential future investment benefiting Crossrail 2, we view Clapham Junction as an exciting area for growth and development.” There’ll no doubt be a negotiation with the landlords over the next few months, and some point we’ll find which of the 100 stores are also set to close. W Real Estate will of course need to ponder how attractive Debenhams is as a reduced-rate tenant, compared to anyone else they might be able to get in in these tricky times (as conversion away from retail would be quite problematic – given the impact the loss of an anchor tenant would have on the rest of the town centre). Fingers crossed on our Debenhams and all who work there.
Whole Foods Market has completed the fit out of the unit next door, and the building of a connection between it and the original shop (as we previously reported on a while back), and the enlarged store has had a bit of a general refresh. It’s selling much the same as before (though new owners have cut the prices a bit across the board), but in a tidier environment with a bit more space. Despite all the work that has gone in to cleaning and painting the windows and exterior walls, the shop looks a bit scruffy from the outside, but this is mainly because they are waiting to install a new sign with an updated logo, which will run along the whole of the unit and make it look more like a single shopfront.
Way back, we reported on the plans to redevelop the Lidl on Falcon lane, to create a much larger and more modern store with two levels of underground car parking. There’s been a curious silence since then. Reports previously suggested that it’s because they are still trying to find a temporary site to trade from during the works – this Lidl is, after all, one of the busiest in the UK and they don’t want to lose that business for six or seven months.
The former PoggenPohl unit (near the Post Office, and which closed in December) is in the planning process and (assuming permission is granted) set to become Clapham Junction’s third branch of Perfect Smile dentists. They already have branches at the eastern end of Lavender Hill, as well as on Falcon Road; we doubt that this application will be controversial.
We lost Ryness opposite Battersea Arts Centre. This branch seemed to do a steady trade in light bulbs and was well-used by residents, but was probably with hindsight just too small to be able to stock the full range of products that it would need to succeed in the trade sector. It also lacked ready access to car parking.
And finally, the old Wandsworth Sash Windows unit half way along Lavender Hill (near the Church of the Ascension) – which has been the subjectof extensive building works as flats were added at the rear of the building – has reopened (after a brief stint as a poop up gallery) as a new beauty treatment salon, VC Beauty.
Restaurants – the good news…
The work to build Clapham Junctions’ second branch of Nando’s, on Lavender Hill right next to Whole Foods Market, seems to be progressing slowly. They have secured planning permission and there seem to have been some works in the unit, but there’s a lot more to come with the installation of new windows and a pretty much complete reconstruction of the interior.
The trio of restaurants that opened last year at the eastern end of Lavender Hill – Pizza Pellone, Vietnamese restaurant Bui Vien, and Japanese Yano Sushi, seem to be doing good trade and have healthy Tripadvisor reviews (which concur with the author’s experience). They have recently been joined by another new arrival, curry takeaway Currybase – who are based in the lower level of what was Noiya. The owners are keen to drum up local trade while a takeaway business, and are very encouraging those of us living nearby to visit and give them a try – we understand that the ground floor will later become a dine-in restaurant as well.
…but we’re missing a few sad departures…
Quite a few readers have got in touch about The Lavender, which closed suddenly and unexpectedly at Christmas. We don’t know what went wrong – despite there not being any obvious warning that a closure was on the way, the closure was an orderly affair (none of the usual landlord repossession notices), and there has been some tidying up inside since then. Running a restaurant isn’t easy, and we can only assume that the owners reached the end of a lease period and decided not to continue. It’s clear that The Lavender is missed by many.
There’s still no news on the fate of the prominent Valentina restaurant opposite Pizza Express – other than that as you can see from our photos, the garden has gradually developed from a patio dining area, to a full-blown wildlife habitat! The olive tree was spirited away not long after closure (not surprising given that they can cost about £1000 each). This is a good sized and placed restaurant (which also has a little-used basement that’s the same size as the ground floor) and we’re optimistic that it will be a restaurant again – given that it’s obviously a good location (we understand that when the chain of a dozen or so Valentina restaurants collapsed under the weight of debts, this was one of a pair of branches that held out to the very end, because they were the most profitable of the chain).
No news either on the future of the former Gastronhome, which closed last year after an impressive five years where the restaurant established itself as one of London’s best – with the rare honour of featuring in the Michelin Guide.
Empty & mystery units
The Cedars / Ashtar building at 4 Lavender Hill (next to Caffe Nero) has had some builders in, but progress has been slow and precisely what’s going on in there is still a bit of a mystery. The place is looking increasingly run down. There is planning permission in place for flats upstairs and a restaurant (with a south facing rear patio) on the ground floor.
Proposed new design for the old Royal British Legion building, (c) Smith & Newton Architects / the Royal British legion
The building housing the Battersea and south Wandsworth branch of the British Legion (the one with the facade mainly of blue bricks, that used to house a small Christmas tree sale once a year) was sadly repossessed from the local branch after what we understand was an increasing struggle to keep up payments with a dwindling number of members. It is being proposed for conversion to flats, with a new shop unit on the ground floor, and an added roof storey. The planning application is up for comment at the time of writing; the entire building is in a relatively poor state of repair that gives some sign as to the struggle that those looking after the club faced towards the end; it will need quite extensive updating.
Finally – Blake’s, which is on Wandsworth Road just beyond the end of Lavender Hill – has been put up for sale complete with a licensed capacity of 200 and a 4am late license. Compared to its widely-known predecessor Inigo it kept a low profile and was always a bit of a mysterious place, opening somewhat intermittently – we’ve never been but keen to hear of any readers have.
All in all, while the retail sector is having a torrid time, with a troubled economy and strong online competition, Lavender Hill has held up well compared to the rest of London and indeed the rest of the UK. This is partly because of some strong locally owned businesses, working hard to deliver a good service and keep people returning. It’s also partly because the population of the area is still growing, the local economy is doing reasonably well, and as a dense city centre area we have a high proportion of residents who shop locally rather than driving off to distant supermarkets. The likes of Premier Inn are also helpful, bringing in 94-odd rooms full of people daily of whom a fair proportion eat out locally.
But there’s no doubt that, like most town centres, we are seeing changes: a gradual move upmarket, a decline in the number of general corner shops, and indeed of retail shops in general, set against a big increase in coffee shops, leisure (we now have not one but two yoga centres) and services (at least three dentists, soon four). There are more restaurants than we had before, and there has been a surprising spread in DIY shops. A few businesses are holding strong like launderettes (we still have two) and of course estate agents. The success of the Get a Grip bicycle workshop reflects the more cycle-friendly nature of inner London and almost certainly wouldn’t have been here a decade ago.
As we always say – do what you can to support our local traders, or one day they won’t be there any more. We’ll keep you updated on developments in Lavender hill, and as ever – let us know if you hear of any interesting news on the street.