I think the rot set in when there was a fire. The oldest portion of the centre was destroyed in an arson attack and eventually rebuilt. What had been a pleasant, friendly, cosy neighbourhood shopping centre has turned into something different.
It is larger and, somehow, less interesting. The old bookshop area was destroyed and the new shop is at the other end of the centre. That's fine. It has a new owner and the nature of the shop has changed a little. That's fine too. It is progress of a sort.
But other things have happened too. There have been some "upmarket" entries - mostly clothing shops and a gift shop. The gift shop has, somehow, managed to stay. The "handbag" shop which began opposite has long since gone. There was a small "young adult" clothing shop on the other side of the gift shop. That left more than three years ago and the space is still empty. Two more spaces have been empty for more than two years. They are in a prominent position. Several weeks ago I noticed activity. They are both to be filled by more clothing stores. At the other end of the centre, on the outside, there is the space once occupied by the "Pet Centre" - gone for over a year now. Nobody appears to be interested in it.
There was an interesting little cafe type business in one of the walkways. It opened with much fan fair and it seemed to do a brisk business. The young people who worked there were efficient and friendly - but it folded quite suddenly. They were there one Friday but not on the Saturday. On the Monday word went round that the business was no more. It is apparently to reopen soon as yet another coffee place.
I have some idea what people are paying for the spaces they lease - and it is high, very high. I have also to confess that I almost never buy the over-priced clothes or coffee so I do little to support those places. (I would mind the price of the clothes much less if I thought the people making them were getting a fair wage.)
I know the price of a lease can be ridiculously high so it was with even more alarm that I saw a plea from my friend Jen Campbell, author of "Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops" and, now, "More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops" say that the lease was expiring on the bookshop she lovingly cares for in London. "Ripping Yarns" sounds a marvellous place...stuffed full of the treasure of second hand or pre-loved books of good quality. The shop specialises in children's books. I am sure that, for me, it would be home-from-home. I could spend hours in such a place. I would come out without a penny in my pocket.
I hope there will be enough people who feel the same way, who can keep the bookshop alive (and Jen in a job) . I hope the person who owns the building will have the good sense to realise that it would be better to have less rent and a thriving book-shop than to raise the rent to the point where years of hard work has to suddenly cease and everyone, not just the owner of the business and the people she employs, is deprived of an essential resource.
If you live in London and love books please go and visit Jen - and keep the place open until I have the chance to visit her!