Barnet Post

Barnet Post

From empty shops to packed pavements

Whetstone High Road has changed for the better

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Em’s cafe on a sunny day Credit Scott Duke-Giles
By Scott Duke-Giles 27 September 2021

Whetstone High Street has transformed under lockdown restrictions, looking busier than ever now that people are working from home. When I left for my first year of university in September 2019, it seemed to me that Whetstone High Road was struggling. It was littered with empty shops and new restaurants which were empty and were constantly changing hands. I found the instability of constant change destabilising. Like so many high streets across the country, the centre of commercial life appeared fractured.

Take the corner of Athenaeum Road. Since 2008, it has seen multiple owners, including a branch of Crouch End’s famous Monkey Nuts, now Matthews Kitchen (another Crouch End favourite). My guess is that business wasn’t thriving, as so many people commute out of the area for work.

This is a far cry from the state of the High Road now. Empty shop spaces have given way to a thriving hub of al-fresco cafes, exciting new restaurants and food options. Earlier this year, My Organic World revived a shop front that had been empty since 2012. Em’s Coffee (open since 2015), The French Market which also opened earlier this year, Bluebox Café, Noir Restaurant and various other outlets who seem to have spearheaded this change. Shops have been rented out and we are promised more new arrivals will be opening soon. Flower and plant boxes installed by ‘Love Whetstone’ (a community volunteer group) in partnership with individual businesses provide barriers around the patio areas.

This transformation has been the result of the easing of restrictions. Prior to venues reopening in April, the wide pavements on the road were not utilised to nearly the same extent as they are now. Today, providing it doesn’t rain, table service sprawls out as far as it possibly can. Walking there recently on a sunny day I noticed that nearly every table was taken, and Em’s Coffee is frequently forced to turn away potential customers due to lack of room. According to their manager, Em’s is consistently busy, meeting “new tables and new faces every day”.

School friends of mine are starting to make the trip to Whetstone from other parts of London and Hertfordshire. The effect this will have in terms of the value and associated desirability of the area remains to be seen in the long run, but I predict that the local economy of Whetstone will be significantly boosted by this transformation.

An increase in demand can be explained by increased housing. An Em’s Coffee employee told me the shop is “far busier now with new apartments opening just over the street and we will probably be even busier next year”. Since the late 2010s, there has been a growth in the building of luxury apartments in the area. Northway House, a modern refurbishment of an existing 1970s apartment block was built by premium housebuilding company Redrow opposite the cafes last year. In turn, I assume this has meant more young people with disposable income moving to Whetstone. Now, with many people working at home over the pandemic young professionals are also dining locally.

For me, Whetstone is an example of the pandemic inadvertently helping local economies. This may come across as overly optimistic, but perhaps the time locked away from one another has made people realise that engaging in local communities and businesses is important in ensuring a certain quality of life maybe this will positively impact the notion of the ‘traditional high street’.

Whether this change is sustainable remains to be seen but it certainly looks promising. The localised support needs to remain strong for outlets to continue to make profits. It may also depend on the ability of Whetstone to create and sustain a certain image and further developing a sense of community. Crouch End and Highgate Village are aspirational targets.

For one, I can safely say this change in Whetstone is positive, and long may it continue.