It breaks my heart to see some place open and you know it's somebody's dream and you know they haven't got a hope in hell of lasting out the year

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Have you noticed when you go into a betting shop that all the pens in there are these stumpy, quarter-sized little midget Biros? Why is that, do you think? Maybe they get a lot of jockeys going into betting shops and they can't get their tiny little hands round normal-sized pens so they put these small ones out instead. Our local betting shop has just closed down, at least I think it has. I think it was a betting shop, that is. It seems that when a shop goes out of business and its sign is taken down so there's absolutely no clue to its identity, then after a few days it's really difficult to remember what kind of shop it was. Was it a butcher's? A massage parlour? A Tamil bookshop? Who knows? Once it's gone, it's almost impossible to recall what was there before. The only way you might find out is if you used to shop there regularly and after a few months you notice you're totally out of Tamil books so you realise that must have been what the place sold.

I wonder if the same phenomenon would occur with a really famous building, like the Houses of Parliament or Sellafield? If they took all the signs down saying what it was, would you walk past thinking: "Now hang on, something used to go on in that big Gothic Revival building, some sort of circus was it? ... No, can't remember."

Restaurants are particularly prone to closing and vanishing overnight. I read in an article about the successful Pierre Victoire cafe chain that something like nine out of 10 independent restaurants close within two years of start-up. The relevance to the low-price, mock-French chain is that they simply swoop into the abandoned premises, saving themselves much time and planning permission. In fact, a Pierre Victoire has just opened round the corner from my house in what used to be a gourmet pizza joint - an eating place that actually lasted a lot longer than it should have given the limited appeal of a pizza with wind-dried tandoori duck on it.

I'm actually something of a connoisseur of closed down or closing down restaurants, it breaks my heart to see some place open and you know it's somebody's dream and you know they haven't got a hope in hell of lasting out the year. I start to worry about these cafes. Every time I walk past I check to see if there are many people at the tables or if they've started doing any desperate special offers, and if I feel really, really sorry for the proprietors, I might even consider eating a meal there. But it will all be to no avail, the place will close. The death throes are often long and protracted, however. I've noticed that when a failing bistro is completely empty a waiter will always go and stand in the doorway looking up and down the street with an incredibly mournful expression on his face. Now I'm no expert on the catering trade, but I reckon if you want to get the punters flocking into your eatery, then stationing a manic depressive in the entrance isn't the right way to go about it.

And, finally, when the place does inevitably go under, the owners never seem to say so right out. What they do is put a handwritten notice in the window saying something like "Restaurant closed for redecoration/refurbishment - grand reopening in three weeks". The notice will still be there, yellow and withered, several years later.

I don't know why these owners put up the little notice - is it some pathetic piece of self-delusion, that maybe somehow their Icelandic Cod Brasserie will be resurrected? Or is it, as seems more likely, a feeble attempt to put off all their creditors for a couple more weeks? Either way nobody takes any notice of the sign. Unlike two rather effective little handwritten signs round the corner from my house. In the Gray's Inn Road there is a stationery shop that has gone bust. In the window is a notice written in felt-tip pen on an old envelope saying "Shop to Let - Enquire at shop next door". Then there is an arrow pointing to the shop next door. The shop next door is a Halal grocer's which has also gone out of business and in its window is another note in ink saying "Shop To Let - Enquire at shop next door" and an arrow which points straight back to the empty stationer's. Several times I have seen potential lessees of the shops stuck like a wasp against a window, buzzing backwards and forwards from one sign to another until I'm forced to prod them with a stick to get them out of the loop - if I wasn't on hand to provide this service, they could spend months shuffling from one shop to the other with a confused look on their face.

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