Corner stores are the opportunistic colonisers of underused space for our benefit. They’re the friendly bacteria of cities. Cities don’t work because of enigmatic signifiers, junk space or parameters. They work because of corner stores.
There’s not much about corner stores we don’t already know, apart from possibly the fact they’re usually called that because they’re located on the corner plots or street ends of rows of terraced housing, often Victorian or Edwardian factory workers’ houses. Here’s one from the early 1900s. It doesn’t look like the UK.
Even if they didn’t stock Salada Tea, corner stores were a common sight in Britain until the 1970s. Many closed with the advent of large supermarkets that combined the services of many small local stores into a single building with lower overheads, centralised purchasing and whatnot. But many survived by offering a wider variety of services or opening for longer hours. Immigrant families had a competitive advantage as they were more likely to work those longer hours. Many stores were absorbed into franchises such as SevenEleven and came to be known as convenience stores.
Trivia. In the states of Western Australia and South Australia, a small convenience store is often known as a deli (a contraction of delicatessen). Elsewhere, deli retains more of its original meaning.
But wherever you are, corner stores are there for you when you run out of milk or bread. They’re there for you when you discover you’ve no tea or coffee for the morning, or when there’s people coming over and you forgot to buy cigarettes, alcohol, crisps and nuts. Many London convenience stores have a wide selection of cigarettes, alcohol, crisps and nuts as if that’s all city dwellers exist on.
This only reinforces the myth that the countryside is where real food exists, as told in Elizabeth David’s lovely book French Country Cooking. That myth was responsible for people wanting Agas and country-kitchens like the one below.
This is exactly the kind of kitchen Alain de Botton describes in his book, The Architecture of Happiness. I had to throw the book away when I came across the line “what could be more pleasant than the early-morning sunlight striking the honey-coloured stone of your kitchen floor?” (I paraphrase, but if you want to find it, you won’t have to read too far.) All this sentence tells me is that
- your kitchen is a separate room with a window so you probably don’t live in a studio apartment – you live in a house
- the early-morning (i.e. low-angle) sunlight enters your kitchen and strikes the floor so you probably have a rather large garden outside your kitchen window (i.e. you are rich)
- you definitely don’t live in an apartment – at least not in London – because your kitchen has a stone floor
- you are rich (or at least aspirational) because that stone is “honey-coloured” and it’s probably Yorkstone
- Alain deBotton is a tosser
Of course, we all know that real food doesn’t exist in the countryside. It exists in urban restaurants because now we all want restaurant kitchens – or at least stainless steel stuff raised off the floor. The kitchen in this next image also works the common belief that good food comes not only from restaurants but from Italy.
It’s a winning combination of associations this next kitchen doesn’t have.
I digressed – but not by much. While all that was happening, the larger UK supermarkets built large out-of-town stores disguised as generic country-style buildings and trained people to do a “weekly shop” from a store on an arterial road in the bountiful countryside.
An increasingly large proportion of the population without cars but with a certain amount of disposable income remained unexploited and this, like smoke follows fire, led to “urban supermarkets” a.k.a. chain spinoff stores selling cigarettes, alcohol, nuts and crisps. You won’t find steak, onions, spinach or salmon in many, if any. I have a memory of going to this one on Fulham Road, London but to buy what, I don’t know. Cigarettes probably, truth be told.
Stores like these are a new revenue earner for large supermarket chains. Chains without them have profit warnings. Stores like these are spreading from city to suburb, forcing existing corner stores to be even more adaptable and diversify their services to include public transport cards, lottery tickets, post-office services, prepaid cards or recharges for mobile or transport, etc. The battlefield is convenience.
- Because of their family ownership and management, corner stores open for longer and with fewer holidays. This is good for you.
- Home deliveries are more personal, more immediate
- You can get many things done at a decent corner store.
- If you get on good terms with the management, they may even let you run up a bill you can settle monthly
To sum up, corner stores are good. They’re here in Dubai too, and – ma shah’allah – they’re on corners! The standard 40m x 40m tower has four corners. Meet Millennium Tower (2006, ATKINS. Burj Al Arab reprise as pseudo-truss – believe me, I know.)
Whatever we may think of Millennium Tower, the FoodLand store on the ground floor MAKES IT BETTER! Note the tricycles for stable and free home delivery.
In buildings such as Millennium Tower, the double ground floor height means it’s possible to get a mezzanine in there for added stock. Win-win for all.
You can see this is a functioning supermarket by what’s on the shelves. It provides local residents with not only the stuff they need, but the stuff they might need. Just up the road is Oasis Tower, the one behind the 19th Street sign.
Oasis House is host to not one but two corner stores.
Do a 180° and you’ll be looking at Liberty House.
Back in the pre-Global Financial Crisis days, its four-storey lobby was all just space and sofas and babbling water in rock-lined pools delineating rows of columns as skirting boards might. Not now.
Now, the lower 4.50 metres of that space is colonised by an ALMAYA supermarket. Technically, Almaya isn’t a corner store not because it’s not on a corner but because it’s part of a small chain.
I include it anyway because it shows what happens when need meets under-exploited space. Plus – because Liberty House and I have history.
This post has no point other than to say LET’S HEAR IT FOR CORNER STORES! YAY!! They’re not architecture, they’re not even buildings FU. P.S.). They’re just some space with some useful stuff in them. Living is more than architecture, more than just shelter.
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