Tuesday, 28 October 2008

All change on Kensington High Street

Despite the fact that I'm a fairly regular visitor to Kensington High Street, it's taken me a while to realise that the former Safeway is now a large Tesco Metro. This has always been the main supermarket on Kensington High Street, as it occupies a high profile position just to the west of the entrance to the underground station.

With the acquisition of Safeway by Morrisons, I had thought we might have a bit more competition in the area: Waitrose have the former Budgens store at the top of Earl's Court Road, and the Whole Foods Market has opened up in the former Barker's building. But no, Morrisons have sold the store to Tesco, who already have the huge flagship Tesco Kensington store on Cromwell Road, about a mile away (and, confusingly, rather closer to Earl's Court). So Kensington now has two large branches of Tesco, but no Asda or Morrisons, and the nearest Sainsbury is over a mile away.

But perhaps the key word here is 'former'. There seems to be a steady merry-go-round of High Street names either moving in or out of Kensington High Street. As well as the supermarkets, Uniqlo have taken over the store that was 'Next', and I noticed today that the branch of H Samuel the jeweller has disappeared.

Now, I'm not a retail expert, so I'm not sure if this is a healthy sign or not? But there's no doubt that a major blow to the area was the departure of Barker's, the department store latterly owned by House of Fraser, which was situated in its wonderfully iconic modernist building (thankfully, still there).

Now I realise all this is driven by the markets, and that ultimately it depends on what customers want. But there's something very comforting about department stores, with their myriad of different sections conjuring up thoughts of old fashioned service, and offering the ability for Mum and Dad to browse separately and then meet up for coffee later, all in the same building. When I was a child, we often went to Bristol for the afternoon shopping, and I recall the main destination was always two of the large department stores, which stood side by side close to the University.

Of course, I always wanted to go to the toy department, or the book section, rather than have to sit and wait while my Mum tried on something in the Ladies' Wear section. (To this day, I can not abide going into women's wear sections in stores). And one of the real treats was going to see Father Christmas in his grotto every year. The reality was always a bit of a disappointment, of course - usually because the gift was uninspiring, and after all that queuing you only had a minute or so with him. But I don't recall any of the horror stories my friends had at the hands of an inept Santa with bad breath or clumsy hands. (Maybe it was because my Dad always stood guard?). Anyway, it was something I looked forward to.

Now, however, many places seem to have lost their department stores completely, and the departure of Barkers is just one more statistic in what seems to be an inevitable trend. But there's no doubt that I feel personally that its departure has taken away an intangible something - especially at Christmas. Where is Santa going to locate his grotto now?

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