When I was about seven, my mum said I was allowed to walk the half mile to school with my friends and without adult supervision. I was delighted. I’d meet four friends, excitedly, at the Park Avenue North entrance to Ally Pally, then walk through the alleyway towards the school gates, always finding time to pop into ‘Amit’s’ sweet shop on route. Amit was the son of the owner and in our year at Campsbourne primary school – I never knew what the shop was actually called.
There were big plastic tubs of old school sweets: aniseed balls and twists, lemon sherbets, Tom Thumb drops – as well as a selection of magazines, cigarettes and household items. We were only interested in the sweets and the Hubba Bubba bubblegum (9p a packet).
I remember standing in front of the counter, a tall man looking down at me, deciding what to spend my 50p on. And I have a vivid memory of it being very dark. The lights were never on, or they were extremely dim, so it was cool in the summer but also a momentary downer as you left the bright sunshine to buy a lollypop from a near pitch-black shop.
The reason I was reminded of Amit’s – and of childhood sweet shops in general – is because I went to see Lucy Sparrow’s felt installation: The Cornershop, last weekend. Set in a little shop on the corner of Wellington Row and Ravenscroft Street, just off Columbia Road, Sparrow spent months sewing replica feminine hygiene products, sweets, chewing gum, fags, newspapers – and everything else you might find in your local convenience store – to fill the shelves and units.
Walking around the cramped, dark shop – eyeing up the familiar items so perfectly reconstructed in felt – took me back to childhood. But not in a superficial, rose-tinted way; it mimics the slight grottiness of those shops, which makes it feel incredibly real. Sparrow’s installation made me realise that the cornershop, as I know it, is dying out. (Amit’s closed down years ago and is now someone’s house).
Take your children, who’ll love this life-sized, exciting installation – and if you grew up frequenting cornershops, as I did, you’ll love the trip down memory lane too.
Open until 31st August 10am-7pm daily.
19 Wellington Row, E2 7BB