Enjoy it while it lasts

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The Independent Online

The stores that were open all hours are closing down.

The stores that were open all hours are closing down. The family-run Asian corner shops, the ones that we all rely on for that forgotten recipe essential, the extra pint of milk, or a last-minute birthday card, are disappearing. Second- generation, British-born Asians are no longer willing to take on the businesses which their parents from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh set up on their arrival in Britain.

While the immigrants from the Indian sub-continent were willing to work long hours, seven days a week, often suffering racial abuse or casual disparagement, their offspring – not surprisingly – prefer something a little easier. That, together with the rise in 24-hour supermarket openings and even bigger garage stores, has led to the steady demise of the Asian shopkeeper. According to last week's Royal Geographical Society conference, the number of stores has fallen by 25 per cent in the past 10 years, to 12,000.

And inevitably, just as they are disappearing, we respond with a combination of hypocrisy and sentimentality. When something familiar is in jeopardy, many of its critics become its staunchest champions. The neighbours who loathe the crumbling pile at the end of their road demand that it be listed – but only when it is threatened with demolition. The chefs who sneer at a television cook rally to her support if her show is dropped.

So it is with the Asian corner shop, something we have all taken for granted for so long. Instead of complaining about their high prices and the age of their fruit and veg, we think fondly of how useful and friendly they were, and how much farther it is to go to the supermarket for the sake of half-a-dozen eggs and a bar of chocolate. Here is the latest in a series of nostalgic yearnings for things we didn't appreciate when they were there. How we pine for the bubble car, the duffel bag, the carpet-sweeper, the cheese-and-wine party and the local cobbler.

So this year, remember to cherish those staples of modern life we take for granted: the Big Mac, the multiplex cinema, the palm pilot, the juice bar. Their days may already be numbered.

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