Boots go to Is­rael. The world gets more bor­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features - SI­MON ROUND

SO BOOTS the chemist is on its way to Is­rael. I am sure there will be plenty of danc­ing in the streets of Tel Aviv at the news that Boots No 7 cream (with its anti-age­ing prop­er­ties) will now be avail­able there.

How­ever, the open­ing of any fa­mous chain in my own lo­cal high street fills me with dread, th­ese days. Why? Mainly be­cause shop­ping in any part of the coun­try has be­come a mo­not­o­nous ex­pe­ri­ence. Th­ese days ev­ery high street is the same as ev­ery other high street. In my own North Lon­don neigh­bour­hood there is a Boots, a W H Smith, Wool­worths, Star­bucks and M&S. Up the road there is a branch of Sains­bury’s.

If I de­cide to make the short­ish trip to Muswell Hill just for a change, I am able to walk into a Boots ,W H Smith, Wool­worths, Star­bucks, M&S and Sains­bury’s. Ad­mit­tedly the shopfronts are a lit­tle more el­e­gant and you get a bet­ter class of shop­per there, but it’s hardly worth the park­ing ticket.

I love those small in­de­pen­dent shops with a slightly idio­syn­cratic feel. We used to have a book­shop in Palmers Green where I live. It was a great place to browse and the staff were al­ways friendly. It closed down of course, I think be­cause they never stocked any books that peo­ple wanted to buy. How­ever, it was still a great lo­cal as­set for book browsers. The same goes for all the heroic in­de­pen­dent cof­fee shops which opened in this fron­tier ter­ri­tory of North Lon­don be­fore the big chains were brave enough to take a chance on us. Once they were seen to be do­ing good busi­ness, Star­bucks moved in a big way with their flashy muffins and slickly mar­keted, if slightly soapy-tast­ing, cap­puc­ci­nos, and now the Greek bloke on the cor­ner who does a tasty panini and a very nice cup of cof­fee is look­ing a very wor­ried man.

At least there are cer­tain out­lets which re­main un­af­fected. For ex­am­ple, in Gold­ers Green, cer­tain restau­rants, like Blooms, are not pro­vid­ing any­thing that Pret a Manger can com­pete with. I’m look­ing for­ward to the day Pret of­fers lifestyle ver­sions of latkes and tsimmes (per­haps with a lit­tle co­rian­der dip on the side). But I don’t see it hap­pen­ing any day soon.

In fact, to be an in­de­pen­dent th­ese days, it seems to me that you ei­ther need to sell ev­ery­thing for a pound, stay open un­til three in the morn­ing or have a Unique Sell­ing Point. For ex­am­ple, if you are the only stock­ist of Dutch moun­tain cheese, gi­raffe’s yo­ghurt and yak’s milk north of the Thames, you might just have a chance. Or then again per­haps not, be­cause al­though it is im­por­tant to of­fer some­thing the chains do not stock, it is also an ad­van­tage that th­ese prod­ucts be things that peo­ple may want to try. I’m not even sure if yak’s milk is kosher (not that I plan to lose any sleep over it).

Any­way, I don’t want to be a wet blan­ket (or per­haps a damp Boots flan­nel), but I’m not sure that go­ing to Is­rael would be so much fun if all the shops were iden­ti­cal to all the shops here.

In Palmers Green, due to the pres­ence of a large Cypriot com­mu­nity, we al­ready have lots of Mediter­ranean fruit and veg and on a warm day you could al­most imag­ine you were in Is­rael. So I think I’m go­ing to stay put, save my air fare and wait for a heat­wave. At least it’s com­fort­ing to know that when the hot weather ar­rives, I will have ac­cess to Boots’ range of sun creams and lo­tions.

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