Amidst the history that this borough has to offer, you’d be forgiven if you forgot that history, local history especially, can come in a myriad of smaller forms. One such form, perhaps the clearest, lies in family-run businesses. Whilst increasingly squeezed out by the big, distant corporations, these businesses that remain serve as some of the borough’s most constant threads – spanning decades and generations with an enduring and familiar presence on the local landscape. The subject of this article is one such business, one that some may already be familiar with seeing how far back it goes – a long-running, family-owned store found in Wealdstone by the name of The Corner Shop.
The store itself has now had a presence in Harrow for over a century, it having been founded in 1901. The store, for those who don’t know it, was established on Byron Road in Wealdstone, now just down the road from the Harrow Leisure Centre. At this time, however, the store was owned by a different family to the one that continues its running today. For the first three decades of its life, it ran under different management until – as far as the earliest records show – it fell under the current family’s ownership. Back then, they owned a total of six shops across the Harrow area – though The Corner Shop remains the last, perhaps driving home just how necessary it is that these local institutions are supported.
Owned by Florence Mabel Maude Parkes during this early period, the shop served as a tobacconist, newsagent, sub-post office and café for the local area. It managed to continue these numerous roles until the outbreak of the Second World War in the 1940s, the result of which – and more explicitly the imposition of rationing nationwide – saw the store’s café being closed. The shop’s post office, however, found renewed importance in this period in handling the rationing books and vouchers for the local community. It was this important, iconic, role that the store provided for the area. It was not to last, however. Shortly after the war’s end, the post office was forced to close when George Parkes, the Great Uncle of the current owners, fell out with the post office, resulting in its demise.
Nevertheless, otherwise carrying on unchanged, the 1960s saw a change in ownership – with Vaughan and Ida Gwyn, parents of the current owners, taking over the business and developing it to include paper rounds and the selling of children’s toys, as well as other products. Later in the 1970s, the shop expanded again to include an off-license section, and a fresh food section – which harkened back to its earlier role in the 1920s and 1930s; albeit this time as a takeaway instead of a café. This area would be further developed in the 1980s, with the store providing the likes of Mr. Whippy ice cream and slush puppies for the local area, and then again in the 2000s – when a hot food side was added alongside a new bakery.
That brings us right up to the present and to The Corner Shop in its current iteration. Now the store is overseen by Martin and Michelle Dee – who first entered the business in 1974 as temporary managers before taking over in the 1990s when Vaughan and Ida were no longer able to. Alongside Martin and Michelle, the store is also run by their children, and grandchildren who can sometimes be found helping out between university and school.
Speaking to Harrow Online about the long-running store, Michelle and Martin’s daughter Heidi Harris said how a few of Wealdstone’s older residents can still remember the store when it was under the ownership of Maude and George Parkes – all the way back in the 1930s and ‘40s. ‘We get an awful lot of customers coming with their children saying “I used to come in here after swimming to get my sweets,”’ Heidi said. ‘Many are still surprised to see my dad behind the counter.’
As much as the store is a lineage for the family, then, The Corner Shop is also one for the local area – a constant through line for the community, between fathers and mothers and daughters, sons, grandsons, and granddaughters. Such legacies are hard to come by, increasingly so – making The Corner Shop but that much more special. Reaching back now almost as far as ninety years, and having adapted decade after decade to fit the needs of the local community – whether they be the restrictions of wartime or the joys of the ‘80s – The Corner Shop is one of Wealdstone’s most enduring institutions, and a small but significant part of what altogether is the borough’s local and still-tangible history.
If you have any memories of The Corner Shop, or of any of other family-run stores in the borough be sure to leave them in the comments below!
Written by Harry Turner.
Image Credit: Google Street View