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Family businesses fear for future as Pret A Manger makes move on Hampstead

Giant sandwhich chain to take over former clothes shop in South End Green

05 September, 2019 — By Helen Chapman and Kate Byng-Hall

The closed down Monica clothes shop

FAMILY-RUN businesses in Hampstead fear they will be forced to close after it was revealed one of the country’s biggest sandwich and coffee chains is preparing to move in.

Pret A Manger, which has more than 500 stores and has become a fixture on high streets across the UK, is planning to open in a former clothes shop directly opposite Hampstead Heath station in South End Green.

With Pret’s ability to work with lower overheads, independent businesses fear its arrival could be disastrous for them and change the nature of Hampstead’s famous village atmosphere.

Hassan Shahmiri, who runs Dominique’s café in South End Road with his wife Gita Sorayapour, said: “We are worried we will have to sell our business if they [Pret] open. Day by day big businesses get bigger and small businesses get smaller. Something like this will make it harder.”

Pret has applied to take over the empty unit formerly occupied by Monica clothes shop. It closed in March last year after a spike in rents and running costs. The shop was covered with fly-posted adverts this week. “It was nice to have Monica here,” said Mr Shahmiri. “She was a friendly neighbour. But there will be no small businesses left soon. I am worried for everyone about the change.”

Last year, Pret was sold for £1.5billion to a private equity group, but while Starbucks, Marks & Spencer and Le Pain Quotidien have broken through in Hampstead, the company is only now plotting its new outpost deep into fertile NW3 territory.

Dominique’s, in contrast, opened in 1993 and was passed down to Ms Sorayapour from her father, Davood, in 2005.

“It’s painful that after 20 to 30 years of business some company can come and take it from us,” said Mr Shahmiri, “There should be more help from the government to support small businesses. Day by day it is getting worse for us. A lot of people in the neighbourhood around here care for us.”

Ms Sorayapour, who has been married to Mr Shahmiri for 31 years, said: “If Pret opens it will kill small businesses. Our shop is one of the old ones in Hampstead. It [Monica’s] should be a bookshop or toyshop or gift shop instead.”

Gita Sorayapour and Hassan Shamiri at long-running Dominique’s

Musa Mohsen, who has worked at Polly’s tearoom, which has been in South End Road for 25 years, said: “We are concerned. It is bad for small, local businesses. There is already a lot of competition. We don’t need another coffee shop – there are already so many and now another one is coming.”

Polly’s

Meanwhile, Tami Isaacs, owner of Karma Bread bakery, was relaxed about Pret’s impending arrival. She said: “I don’t feel this is a threat to my business. We are firmly nestled in the community. We are the local bakery, we know our customers well.”

Ms Isaacs, who says her bakery serves staff and patients from the Royal Free Hospital nearby, added: “As chains go, I really do like Pret and what they offer. High streets have become too volatile and chains can afford the rent.”

Pret A Manger declined to comment, but has applications filed at the Town Hall for changes to the shop front. Planners are due to rule on those alterations later this month. Monica Mayer had run the clothes shop for 40 years, launching her business in the 1960s after studying fashion at Saint Martin’s.

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