Don't reign on our parade: Business is thriving in Leoplod Road, Wimbledon, but Safeway's plans to build a vast superstore half a mile away may put a stop to all that

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If you take a train south from Waterloo you can see it on the right, half a mile before Wimbledon Station. Leopold Road is an unspoilt terrace of ornate, three-storey Victorian shops winding up both sides of a steep hill to Wimbledon Park's leafy residential enclaves. ITV's The Bill is sometimes filmed here and Paul Young gets his shoes mended here; but for hundreds of locals, it is simply their 'little shopping parade.

As well as the post office, newsagent, grocer, old-fashioned butcher, Chinese take-away and launderette, Leopold Road also boasts hairdressing, veterinary services, a pub, two restaurants, an art gallery and a picture-framing business. With 26 shops, the parade offers that 'you can buy everything here, feel-good factor one normally associates with dingy, windowless malls or bland superstores. Not one shop is empty or shuttered; not one is up for sale. Business is thriving.

'Parades like this are disappearing all over London, says a postman, sitting in the launderette with his mates. 'But this one just keeps on going.

''There's something olde worlde about this road, says Ian McDonnell, two doors down at Total Care, the hairdresser's. 'It's got a bit of class, it's not gaudy or tacky and people appreciate it. He turns away to finish cutting a customer's hair. 'Not like going to a supermarket. So boring, just getting packages plonked down in front of you. You can get everything you need here. When I first came to London, no one said good morning, but here they do. It's like a village. I'd be horrified to see it go.

His fears are not without cause. The beady eye of commerce has recently focused on this part of SW19. With its alluring combination of double-income, no-kids-yet couples, affluent families and satisfyingly distant shopping centres, the area surrounding Leopold Road is a wallet simply waiting to be raided.

Undeterred by Merton council's recent rejection of its application, Safeway is currently pushing through an appeal to the Department of the Environment for permission to build a vast superstore on the old Wimbledon Football Club ground. Half a mile away from Leopold Road, the site which in 1988 saw mass hysteria when Wimbledon FC came home with the FA Cup, may now be home to car washes, dry cleaners and 57,000 square feet of shopping aisles. 'STORE PLAN REJECTED, shouts this week's local paper; yet an official at the town hall privately admits that Safeway will probably end up getting its own way.

Notwithstanding recent Government opposition to such superstores, the council's lack of enthusiasm and a petition signed by over 3,000 local Residents, Safeway appears to be bullishly confident. 'We wouldn't have appealed against the council unless we thought we had a very strong case, says Peter Sitch, Safeway's external relations manager. 'Competition is the essence of retailing. If there was no competition, we would still be shopping as if we were in the 1950s. People are perfectly entitled to carry on shopping in their local shops, anyway. It's all a matter of customer choice.

Customer choice? With such massive encroachment on the local habitat, it's likely that the Leopold Road shops, with their delicate balance of luxury and necessity, could be knocked out of the running.

'The parade has most things that people need and special things as well, says Elly Young, owner of Moonlighting, the gift shop.

'It's friendly too. But are we just dinosaurs?

Ms Young admits that she sometimes uses local supermarkets; indeed, no one would suggest that all one's domestic shopping could or should be done by carrying heavy bags from one local shop to the other. Most of the stores in Leopold Road are content to leave the heavy, discounted and bulk purchases to supermarkets, where families can sling baby on top, pile up the trolley and stuff it all in the Volvo. 'Of course I go to them to get big bags of detergent, says Betty Crook, an 80-year-old Wimbledon resident. 'But not every week.

People who use Leopold Road seem divided about the fate of the parade. 'It doesn't worry me in the slightest, says Sally Harrison, a smart woman in a pink jumpsuit who has been shopping here since 1968. 'I'll still come here for things you can't get in a superstore, like picture-framing, or to have my hair done. I don't fear supermarkets.

'I think the shops will be drastically affected, counters Sharon Macdonald, who is leading the campaign against Safeway. 'Safeway is offering the same services; the shops here can't compete. No wonder John Gummer has personally called this appeal in for his consideration.

The DoE is determining Safeway's application on 27 September; until then, Leopold Road will continue to trade as it has for over 100 years.

THE GIFT SHOP

'This is more like a drop-in centre, admits Ms Young, who has been here since 1973. 'It doesn't really matter if you don't buy anything here, as long as you have a good time. I suppose my normal customer is a woman with a small child who wants a present for granny and a card, and some chocs while she's at it.

She casts a critical eye up the street. 'We had a residents association here once; and we tried to think of a name for the parade. We tried Leopold Village, and Leopold Parade, but it didn't really take off. But it's neighbourly, all the same. When my till was robbed, a boy from the butcher's chased the thief all the way up the road.

'Morning, Basil] she shouts to an elderly man walking up the hill. He waves his stick in return. 'My mother comes down from Scotland and they all say hello to her, she can't believe it. It contradicts the idea that London is an unfriendly place.

'Safeway would kill all this completely, she adds. 'You'd just get cars shooting down the hill and no one would have any reason to shop here. Even though I stock more cards this side of Covent Garden than anyone else in London.

THE BUTCHER

Robert Edwards, owner of the butcher's shop, is 23; before him, his father ran the business for 19 years. The shop, all blue tiles and sawdust, has about 100 local accounts and delivers by van to customers. One can buy any variety of meat here; from a single sausage (15p), to a slab of fillet steak (pounds 11 per lb), a rack of lamb, or a completely boned and stuffed chicken. All the preparation is done on site.

'We supply meat to the Royal Opera House and the Metropolitan Police, says Mr Edwards. 'A lot of our business is in the catering trade; so Safeway won't affect us directly. It'll cause other shops to close down here, though, which looks bad for us all.

'There are lots of older, traditional people living around here; they stick to what they know and who they know. If I have a son, I'd like him to come and take over from me.

THE COBBLER

Not only Paul Young, but members of the landed gentry, a man from Stratford-upon-Avon, a family from Reigate and over 500 locals bring their shoes to Leopold Road for Albert Hathway to mend. Mr Hathway has worked here since 1970, yet the shop itself has been a cobbler's since the 1920s.

'I've never altered a thing, says Mr Hathway. 'I've only put up a few shelves. A candle is burning behind him, ready for waxing the sides of a pair of brogues. 'Heel bars are useless, he says, waving a Miss Selfridge platform shoe. The heel looks hopelessly damaged. 'Nonsense, says Mr Hathway. 'I trained repairing army boots. This just needs a new steel shank.

Prices start at 59p for a pair of black laces, to pounds 24.50 if you want your shoes taken apart and stitched back together by hand. Mr Hathway estimates that on a good day he will mend 50 pairs of shoes. A woman comes in; she is a local JP. 'Quality, says the woman. 'That's why I come here. And to talk about fishing with Mr Hathway.

THE GROCER

Surendra Patel has owned Freshway Grocer's with his wife, Divya, for the past four years. They make a profit of pounds 20,000 a year. Mr Patel admits it is a struggle, particularly since supermarkets in nearby Wimbledon town centre now open longer hours.

'We are open from 8.30am to 9pm every day, including Sundays, says Mr Patel. 'I have no choice; even so, we're only just breaking even. Safeway will kill us; and empty shops in the street will kill the street.

Mr Patel estimates that he stocks over 1,000 lines of food; small fry compared to the 20,000 lines Safeway boasts the new store will hold, but he believes his shop offers 'convenience and small items. You can buy what you want here; and I know everyone personally. He sits behind the counter, arms folded defensively. 'I will work harder when Safeway opens, but it won't make any difference.

THE DELI

An aria from The Marriage of Figaro comes warbling out of Morse and Hardy, the delicatessen at the end of the terrace. Ronnie Mackenzie, general manager, stands in the street wearing a white apron; a hangover, perhaps, from his days working at Fortnum & Mason.

'They call me the King of Leopold Road, says Mr Mackenzie imperiously. 'I love it] It's a bit outrageous; but then I have got the gossip on everyone here. Indeed, Morse and Hardy is classy; Ben & Jerry's ice cream, bottles of vintage Italian olive oil and hand-made Belgian chocolates (28p each) are arranged alongside fresh croissants and ham sliced to order. In the back, there's a catering business.

'I studied the socio-economics around here before we opened, says owner and fellow ex-Fortnum's employee Kathy Morse. 'There are a lot of middle-management people here and all the residents are in work. This area has one of the lowest unemployment levels in the whole of London. Which means they have money, but no time to cook. But another supermarket, so nearby, would be a temptation for people to say goodbye to Morse and Hardy.

Business is thriving in Leopold Road, Wimbledon, but Safeway's plans to build a vast superstore half a mile away may put a stop to all that.

THE PARADE THAT DIED

Obscured by rows of newly-planted trees, Sainsbury's supermarket on East Dulwich's Dog Kennel Hill is recognisable only by its low, red-tiled American-style gables and a discreet road sign. But the queues of cars lining up at its entrance and the shuttered shops on nearby Grove Vale bear testament to the vast impact a superstore can have on the local shopping parade.

The electronics shop is closed, the launderette is closed, there is a 'For Sale sign up for 'Five lock-up shops (all closed), and grocer J Forder & Son, whose 'Some Good Food Costs Less at Forders sign is a woefully ironic mirror of Sainsbury's own motto, is also closed.

When Sainsbury opened here two years ago, its impact on local business was championed by the Independent Grocer trade paper. Each week, a graph marked the fate of the 'Dulwich Seven, several of whom have now closed down completely. 'My trade has halved, says one of the Seven, Mayur Patel, whose provisions shop is about 100 yards from Sainsbury. His takings have dived from pounds 4,000 to pounds 2,000 a week. 'At first, the council refused to give planning permission, but in the end, they couldn't refuse. There's no business now for the little shops. No one's walking past anymore, and we're all closing down. My shop's on the market.

'I can't compete with Sainsbury, concurs Zhan Khan, whose mini-market is directly opposite the superstore. 'Everyone has closed down around here. Before, we all survived together. I've tried branching out into things like phonecards, but there's no money in it. I'm only still here because I'm opposite a bus stop.

'He's too expensive, says Michael Coker, outside by the bus stop. He looks over at the parade, where most shops are shuttered and locked, faded Happy Shopper posters peeling off the window displays. 'I'm pleased Sainsbury has opened. You can get lots of things at the same time, and it's cheap.

(Photographs omitted)

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