Newsagent's Marsh Hill News looks back on 40 years of serving Homerton
PUBLISHED: 16:31 08 May 2018 | UPDATED: 16:31 08 May 2018
When Marsh Hill News opened, the regular customers came from the Lesney Products Matchbox factory, the words artisan coffee had never been uttered and the Olympics were something that took place on the telly. A lot has changed since 1978, as Jan Patel told the Gazette ahead of next month’s anniversary.
In 1978 when Jan Patel’s husband Sid asked her what she thought about buying a newsagent’s, she replied: “Go on then”.
Little did she know that all these years later they would be about to celebrate their 40th birthday at Marsh Hill News – in a very different Homerton to the one they arrived in.
“We were a young couple and had our son Avnish and decided not to go back to work,” Jan explained.
“My husband was a civil servant in the pension department and said: ‘Instead of going back to work shall we buy a cornershop?’ That was the thing at the time.”
So the pair, who lived in Forest Gate, looked around for a shop and settled on the small one with the nice flat above it in Homerton.
“People were saying: ‘You’re going into Hackney? You must be joking’.
“But everyone around this parade were very good customers and welcomed us, they were very good.
“To us it was an all new experience, and to them it was seeing a brown face for the first time. But they didn’t look at me like that.
“When we moved in a customer came first thing in the morning with a pint of milk and a loaf of bread for us.
“At that time the Kingsmead Estate was very notorious, you know? But we just kept ourselves to ourselves – just please and thank you.
“The children who grew up around here still come back and see us and say: ‘Oh my god, you’re still here and you haven’t changed!”
The area, however, has changed. Young professionals, hipster cafes and London’s first vegan pub can all be found in Homerton now, and Mars Hill News is competing with the poshest Spar you’ve ever seen.
Jan says there were two distinct points at which the area began to change – for the better, she believes. The first was the closure of the Lesney’s – the Matchbox toy car factory and one of Hackney’s biggest employers – in 1982.
The second was the Olympics in 2012.
“When we bid for the Olympics we prayed London would win the bote. We thought it would be really busy here as a result, and it wasn’t, but since then it has changed for the better.
“I don’t want to say Yuppies, but young professionals came and the property went up.”
In the age of internet shopping and supermarket dominance, the shop may not be as busy now as it was – but there is still a solid customer base, who Jan says are “like family” to her and Sid.
“We have customers who come every day and even the ones who have moved away we still keep in touch with. There’s one woman who I speak to every day who moved away years ago.”
The secret to the shop’s success, Jan believes, was her and Sid’s forward thinking. They stole a march on their competitors by becoming the first place in the area to provide Oyster card services, as well as being the first to sell lottery tickets.
“Back then business was booming,” she recalled. “We used to have queues going back through the door. If we didn’t have that we wouldn’t have survived, it was all about the services for customers.”
After four decades in the game, Jan is philosophical about the future.
“I said I wanted to do 40 years here but never thought we would,” she added. “We’re thinking of selling it at the end of this year and retiring.
“But we can say we have done good out of moving to Hackney. We have been happy here.”
To mark the milestone, Jan and Sid are inviting friends to celebrate with them on June 1.
“I’m going to spend some money, about £200, and buy some raffles prizes and give them out in the morning. Then we’re going to invite people in and have a party.”