Berwick Street market trader laments rising rents as he packs up for final time
'Famous street has lost legendary shops and cultural meeting points'
17 February, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya
Sam Coe: He says that rising rents and uncertainty about the future of Berwick Street Market have hit home in Soho
A BERWICK Street trader who was just a teenager when he first discovered Soho has packed up his stall for the last time.
Sam Coe of Sam’s Soho Supplies, which has now closed, said: “I was a 16-year-old boy record shopping in Berwick Street. I was DJing all those years ago and Soho was the place to go to buy records. During that time I was working in a cash and carry warehouse in New Cross where I first met Andy who had his store in Berwick Street.”
He soon started working for That’s Andy hardware store – named that way because “people would come in and say “that’s ’andy!” – where he stayed for many years.
The 34-year-old has fond memories of the market back then. “Berwick Street had a lot more pitches. There were a lot more fruit and veg guys. Unfortunately most of them were Arsenal supporters and I’m a Tottenham supporter… It had that old-school vibe.”
When Andy shut his shop in 2015, with work set to begin to build a hotel in the street, Mr Coe went solo and launched Sam’s Soho Supplies, selling household goods from a stall instead. Now he is moving on for a variety of reasons and, though he said it was an “emotional” decision, he felt it was the right time to go.
“Berwick Street has undergone a massive change, and not for the better. Footfall has suffered massively,” he said. The past three years, which were filled with building works, rising rents and uncertainty about the market’s future, have hit Soho harder than anything else in all his years there, Mr Coe explained.
And he was sad to see many businesses close down – including his beloved record stores.
“They were legendary shops, but they were also meeting points for people, cultural points where people would hang out. To lose them because of rent increases, I find that heartbreaking.”
A keen guitar player and music lover to this day, Mr Coe found he had less time to pursue these passions, while running a business. Now he hopes to have more time for other things, as he works out his next step. But what he will miss most is the people.
“They say Soho is not the same place it was in the Swinging 60s and 1970s, but you get such an eclectic mix of people in Soho, young and old. It is a place you pass a homeless person sleeping in the alleyway, then walk round the corner and see a famous film star. It is just everything and everyone. I think it still has that spirit.”