“I run General Store, a small grocery shop in south London, with my partner and a team of seven. We are a strong community here and that’s what the shop is built on – but how that community exists has changed. We were a busy, free-flowing space where people would come to talk, drink coffee, buy bread, groceries and wine. Overnight we’ve become a food-and-drink hotline with a same-day collection service. Our customers order from 08.00 onward, we call them back once it’s ready and they pay and collect under the black-and-white striped awning outside.
We’ve made this change because we want to keep our staff safe and continue to provide great food. We haven’t furloughed anyone and we’ve found operating like this much better for our team’s wellbeing.
As the lockdown has gone on, people have started buying more fresh fruit and vegetables from us; we’ve been selling more radishes, more bunches of basil and more butterhead lettuces than we ever normally would. When you’re indoors a lot, [I suppose] you crave things that are fresh again.
People also love our pastéis de nata [Portuguese custard tarts]. You can pre-order them as late as Wednesday and collect them on Friday. [For many of our customers] it’s a beautiful way of holding onto a Friday tradition. We get them from Diana Neto, a baker at east London café and bakery A Portuguese Love Affair; it shut down when the virus hit, so this is a way for it to get going again. As small businesses, it’s important that we support each other.
I hope that there’s a lesson here: there is a reason to shop with independents. Nobody wants to lose the high street – and we have exceptional produce, even now.We can all eat fantastic things.”
About the interviewee: Jones co-founded General Store in Peckham, London in 2012. For this article, he spoke to Louis Harnett O’Meara.