Shop Days #7: The Chinese (Mini)Supermarket

Kim Lien
One of an occasional series where we get to see what it’s like being behind the counter for a day…
Well it is still technically the Chinese New Year, and so we thought we’d have a chat with our Vietnamese/Chinese neighbours.
Kim Lien (who is Chinese but was born in Vietnam) is a sort of oriental Mrs. Shopkeeper. She works silly long hours, but patently enjoys every moment in her little retail universe. Her family all help her (you can see Mummy Lien and daughter Naomi in the picture there), but it is Kim who is tied to the till, the public face of the business. She has been many things – a factory boss, a restaurateur – but this is her first actual shop.
Your day starts… We open at 10.30, but I often have to start earlier, running around to collect supplies
What do you eat? We have no room to cook in the shop, so we subsist on instant noodles and food from the many local takeaways
Best bits of the job? It is a privilege to be able to interact with the local community, both Chinese and otherwise.
Worst bits of the job? We are a small-but-growing enterprise, and I have got to that frustrating stage where I need staff but cannot afford to pay anyone. So I have an increasing work load and am spending more and more hours in the shop.
Would you want your children to follow you into the trade? I’d be delighted if Naomi came to join me. She already helps out.
Your day ends? We shut at 7-ish, but often leave much later.
Back room secret? Stock, stock and more stock I am afraid. A lot of noodles.
Tell us a trick of the trade… Non-oriental people seem very nervous when they come in to the shop. You should talk to the shopkeeper more, ask for their help with ingredients. We like to help…
Gong Hey Fat Choy – or rather, Chuc Mung Nam Moi (in Vietnamese)! Happy Year of the Monkey!

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Shop Days #6: The Fishmonger

K&A
One of an occasional series where we get to see what it’s like being behind the counter for a day…
A lot of people ask Mr. & Mrs. Shopkeeper where they buy their fish. And the answer is here, at K & A (although we can never remember if it is K & A or A & K). They are just beyond the railway bridge in Rye Lane.
Now there are lots of similar shops selling fish in Peckham. But we haven’t yet found one that knows their stuff like these chaps. They go to market themselves every morning, only sell stuff that is fresh and seasonal, and are not afraid to tell you what’s what in the fish world. They offer great advice, fillet stuff beautifully, and are unusually cheerful for men who spend their lives rummaging through ice and fish guts…
Anyway, we reckoned their work looks pretty hard, so we went along to ask Khayam, the governor, about his day…
Your day starts… at 5am on the days we go to Billingsgate. Otherwise, at 8am.
What do you eat? Quite often we make rice and qorma. Otherwise it’s one of the numerous takeaways on this stretch. There’s a great new Pakistani kebab place near the station.
Best bits of the job? Providing really good service and top quality fish for my customers. We’ve been operating for over 15 years now and we have a lovely, regular clientele.
Worst bits of the job? Some people think it’s the smell, but you get used to that. I’d have to say it’s the cold and the wet. The pain of a sharp wind as you shovel ice on a Winter morning is hard to describe. Ungrateful and rude customers are a source of distress too.
Would you want your children to follow you into the trade? My kids will do what they want to do, regardless of what I think. I doubt if it includes fish.
Your day ends? We shut at 7pm.
Back room secret? Our back room is mostly fridge I’m afraid. But we do have a robust heater and a kettle to help us get warm.
Tell us a trick of the trade… If you want good fish, always talk to your fishmonger. Ask his advice on what’s best that day, and on cooking it too.

Shop Days #5: The Bike Men


One of an occasional series where we get to see what it’s like being behind the counter for a day…
Wilsons Cycles is a real landmark in South East London, and enjoys the honour of being Peckham’s oldest established business. Steve and his son Lee took the shop over from old Mr. Wilson around 15 years ago, and have built up a sterling reputation for their friendly and efficient service. Sometimes their gaff seems more like a social club than a repair shop.
Your day starts: 10, ish. Actually we’re a bit vague about opening times, but we’re getting better.
What do your eat? Steve: quite often nothing. I’m always too busy. Lee: anything and everything. Growing lad and all that.
Best bits of the job? Meeting people and the satisfaction it gives when they collect the repair and come back to compliment you on the work done.
Worst bits of the job? When customers are given a quote for a job then add another dozen things and still think its the same price.
If you knew 20 years ago what you know now, would you still go into the trade? Steve: Yeah. Probably. I think it’s in my blood.
Your day ends? Well we are trying to stay open longer. Til 7ish. That way people can come and see us on their way home from work.
Back room secret? A microwave. A sink. A kettle. Nothing very exciting I’m afraid.
Tell us a trick of the trade: A lot of people buy new inner tubes and forget to check the state of the actual tyre.

Shop Days #4: The Baker


One of an occasional series where we get to see what it’s like being behind the counter for a day…
Today we meet the owner of Ayres the Bakers in Nunhead. Master baker Vincent and his wife Frances have run the shop since 1995…but the shop has been belonged to the Ayres family for 50 years. AND Vince is proud to be the 6th generation of Ayres bakers. It has to be said that they have an utterly astonishing array of bread and cakes.
Your day starts: Usually at 5am. Yes, 5am. The shop opens at 6.30.
What do you eat? Lunch is usually a long roll and some soup. Our bread is actually good enough to eat, you see.
Best bits of the job? Managing to get through our morning schedule on time. It really is one hell of a rush.
Worst bits of the job? When I have to let a member of staff go. Doesn’t matter what the circumstances, it always hurts.
If you knew 20 years ago what you know now, would you still go into the trade? I’d have to say yes. I do make a living out of the shop. But it isn’t getting any easier.
Your day ends? At around 3, when I go and pick the kids up from school. My wife runs the shop itself, and so she finishes at 5pm.
Back room secret: There are currently about 3 tonnes of flour sitting in there.
Tell us a trick of the trade: To make good bread you need a good head for percentages. And: liquid measures are always weighed rather than gauged by volume. Not a lot of people know that.

Shop Days #3: The Jeweller

One of an occasional series where we get to see what it’s like being behind the counter for a day…
Time to meet Lloyd (pictured) who, along with pals Owen and Peter, runs Touch II Jewellery in Peckham’s Rye Lane. And has done for more years than he cares to remember.

Your day starts: We open at 9ish. Quite often 9.30ish. Sometimes 10ish.
What do you eat? A bit of this and a bit of that. Peckham doesn’t lack for takeaway food outlets.
Best bits of the job: We just love the relationship we have with our customers: that really is the beauty of running a small, independent business. The chit-chat. Being able to help people. Seeing that people care for us.
Worst bits of the job: This recession. There ain’t no bloomin’ money around. Times are hard.
Do you feel safe in your shop? Oh yes. Nothing much bothers us.
Would you want your children to follow in your footsteps? Hell no.
Your day ends: We shut officially at 5.30. Although we often try to bunk off a bit earlier.
Back room secret: Bet you want us to tell you that there is a bulging safe in our back room. Sorry to disappoint you: it actually consists of a small workshop where we carry out repairs.

Shop Days #2: The Florist

One of an occasional series where we get to see what it’s like being behind the counter for a day…
Today we meet the owners of The Flower Shop in Peckham. Brenda’s been in the trade for well over 20 years: daughter Carly, on the left, took over officially a couple of years ago.

Your day starts: We go to market two days a week, and that means starting anything between 3-6am. But we don’t open til 9.30am, as this is one sleepy neighbourhood.
What do you eat: We eat mostly on the hoof. Usually we bring something from home – but Peckham has a huge range of ready food options. The staff at Greggs know us quite well.
Best bits of the job: Arranging flowers IS an art, and the joy of presenting something to a customer that takes their breath away gives us a real buzz.
Worst bits of the job: Customers do give us a lot of aggro. But the worst part of running a flower shop is those winter mornings, when you are handling wet flowers and buckets of water, and your hands just freeze.
If you knew 20 years ago what you know now, would you still go into the trade? I would like to think so. But…..maybe not.
Your day ends: 5-5.30, although we might stay a bit later on Fridays/Saturdays if there are a lot of jobs on. We open 6 days a week, but obviously things like Mothering Sunday and Valentines Day see us opening on Sunday as well.
Back room secret: Well we haven’t got room for the luxury of a back room. But I guess our secret is that we are never entirely alone here. We have at least one, and sometimes two, ferocious guard cats living here. Actually, it’s their shop. We just work here. 🙂
Tell us a trick of the trade… Flowers do need conditioning. You need to strip out some of the foliage, trim the stems, change the water several times a week, talk to them…

Shop Days #1: The Butcher

The first in an occasional series where we get to see what it’s like being behind the counter for a day…
Today we meet Gary (that’s him on the left: his real name is so long he’s given up spelling it out to people), of United Meats in Peckham. He’s been in the trade for over 20 years.

The Butcher


Your day starts: Most days at 6am, but two days a week I go to Smithfields, and so we’re talking 3am. The shop opens at around 8am.
What do you eat? Some days it is just too busy to eat properly. Then we exist on lots of tea, and maybe some fried chicken. But on a good day we get to prepare a communal staff meal and eat it in shifts.
Best bits of the job: I genuinely like meat. I like buying it, preparing it, and eating it. I love it when I can share my enthusiasm and meat-knowledge with my customers, and when they come back to me full of gratitude. Most of my business comes to me by word of mouth.
I am lucky with my staff as well: there is great camaraderie here, and we have a laugh.
Worst bits of the job: Grappling with council inspectors, rubbish collectors and red-tape. Running a food business in this country is getting harder every day. And the high street is not as busy as it used to be.
Also: the shop is open to the street, and on a frosty winter morning I have seen grown butchers weep with the cold.
Would you let your children follow in your footsteps? Butchery is a profession. It requires training, experience and skill, and I would love to think that my children would be dedicated enough. My son already helps out at the shop. But no: I wouldn’t wish it on them.
Your day ends: We shut at 8pm most days. It doesn’t leave me with much of an evening. Makes me glad I have my brothers to fall back on: I take a few weeks off every year whilst one of them covers me.
Back room secret? We’re all men here, and so we don’t have need for comfort. And we don’t have room: the back of the shop is all stores and fridges.
Tell us a trick of the trade… That thing about meat that’s been hanged? It’s all true.