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All right, I know: everyone appreciates their own corner shop as a source of snacks, fags, batteries, Blu-Tack, fizzy drinks, painkillers and all the other things that make London life possible. But have you ever thought about the cosmic significance of the capital’s independent newsagents as a whole?
Without the plucky corner shop, our city would be an unbroken chain of Sainsbury’s Locals and Tesco Expresses. Decent crisps would never be on offer, there would always be an unexpected item in the bagging area, and veg wrapped in infinite layers of plastic would force the condemned into a Sisyphean game of pass the parsnip.
Salvation lies down the road, where the beacon of the corner shop’s fascia – invariably sponsored by a phone company you thought went bust in 2008 – emits a providential glow amid the hoary gloom. Booted out of the pub after last orders, thirsty for more but reluctant to go out-out? The corner shop is there for you. Been out-out and want to carry on into the ungodly hours? The corner shop is your friend, with its abundant store of tinnies, cigs and other afterparty supplies.
‘Without the plucky corner shop, our city would be an unbroken chain of Sainsbury’s Locals’
Each corner shop has a unique special feature – a butcher’s counter at the back, say, or an endearing selection of gas-mask-shaped bongs. If you’re truly blessed, your local may be furnished with the holy grail: a hatch for spontaneous after-hours purchases once the main doors have closed. What these establishments all have in common is a bigger, better selection of booze (Tatra Mocne! Cactus Jack’s!) and an array of snacks – from Space Invaders to baklava to Dip Dabs – infinitely superior to any chain mini-market’s.
They don’t just feed our bad habits, either. The corner shop has played a crucial role in the integration of the capital’s immigrant communities. Read Babita Sharma’s book ‘Shopkeepers, the Sharmas and the Making of Modern Britain’ for a look at how the corner shop and its proprietors shaped our country. In their absence, our city would be as predictable and bland as your lunchtime meal deal.
After you and I are gone, when commuters travel on the PepsiCo Northern line and tuck into Chlorine Fried Chicken; when part-ownership schemes offer lucky first-time buyers 1 percent of their dream studio box room; when, cutting out the middlemen, public policy is finally decided by a committee of tabloid newspaper editors, the corner shop will endure, its inviting 24-hour glow illuminating our urban perdition.