General Store is a small, unassuming but beautifully crafted, stocked and styled grocery shop on the ever popular Bellenden Rd in Peckham south-east London. Merlin and Gena, the passionate, knowledgable and friendly owners have created a shop with an ethical and honest approach to sourcing and selling, a real gem. Its carefully curated shelves are lined with goods that have been produced with love and care, and a strong aesthetic sense. In honour of the traditional grocery shop General Store has a little bit of everything, home made cakes, fresh bread, carefully sourced cheese and fresh coffee. It is not just a store for shopping though, it is a place in the neighbourhood that people can pop in to for a chat or just to browse. A real part of the community.
We visited on a cold, wet February morning and had the pleasure of photographing this beautiful space, while planning our lunch, dinner and every meal forever after from the abundant baskets, bowls and shelves.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUNDS. HOW DID YOU COME TO OPEN A SHOP?
Sometimes we wonder how we ended up opening a shop. We never set out with the clear intention of doing so. It was more as a result of years of thinking about how we wanted to live and work and be part of a community. At the end 2011 we left our 9-5 jobs to try and realign our lives around food and hopefully create a business we could run and develop together. Merlin would stare through the windows of Neal’s Yard Dairy and say: “One day I’ll leave my job and learn how to make cheese”, and that’s exactly what we did. We retrained in cheese making and baking and worked out we wanted to bring some of that experience into a shop setting, which led to General Store.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS LOCATION?
It was more by chance than anything else. We were looking for a flat to rent near friends, in a new part of London and somewhere that felt friendly and neighbourly and we found this property with a flat and shop space attached. It was a nice bit of synchronicity.
WHAT IS ON YOUR DOORSTEP? TELL US ABOUT YOUR AREA.
There’s so much on our doorstep and it’s not like any of them are really well kept secrets anymore! On our road, an amazing butcher; Flock & Herd, great food; Artusi, The Begging Bowl, Ganapati, the best bookshop run by the best people: Review and one of our favourite human beings ever: Paula from the laundromat.
HOW DID YOU DESIGN THE SHOP? WHERE DID YOU SOURCE THE FIXTURES AND FITTINGS?
The design was driven most by function. We knew the flow of the shop was the most important aspect of the design and that we didn’t want it to be overly complicated. We also wanted to reflect the straightforwardness and honesty of the products we were going to sell in the design choices, using pieces that were similarly honest. It took us four months to open, partly because we had never had to create a space that was (hopefully) going to be seen by lots of other people! We found things all over the place; ebay, a great place called RE (http://www.re-foundobjects.com), lampshades from Enamel Lampshades (http://www.enamelshades.co.uk), we modelled all of our new birch plywood shelves on a tatty wooden shelf we bought for £20 and had a carpenter copy the wall brackets, our enamel ware and glass herb jars were all bought around the corner on Rye Lane from Khan’s Bargain and Bims African Foods.
HOW DO YOU SOURCE YOUR STOCK?
One of the things we were very clear about before we opened the shop was that we wanted to stock produce that was the best and truest example of its kind. Less choice and more focus on singular products that actually play a part in cooking: tinned tomatoes, cheese, flour, rice, eggs - the food staples. We want to have a shop where people come to plan meals and cook. So really we’re looking for simple, honest, classic products. When we first opened there was very little in the shop. Finding things to sell that you believe in takes time and we didn’t want to fill the shelves just for the sake of it. We have a list of things we’re still looking for and hopefully someone walks through the door one day and plonks it down on the counter.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB? WHAT INSPIRES YOU AND WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
We love working together. We love being part of people’s week-to-week and getting to know so many different kinds of people and a little about them. We love the simplicity of what we do and the routine of it, filling the apple crates every Wednesday gives ridiculous joy. We get to work with some amazing people who are passionate and so good at what they do and that’s very inspiring.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SHOP?
We have a few. Leila’s Shop on Calvert Avenue is definitely one of our favourites, timeless, she has a classic appreciation of food. Genevieve used to work for Melrose & Morgan and their two shops have always been a source of inspiration and envy! Neal’s Yard Dairy for perhaps the best example of care, knowledge and understanding of cheese and what it means to support producers and how to best represent their product to the customer.
WHERE IS YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO EAT OUT?
We love Koya on Frith Street. We usually order from the specials, the obsession grows with every visit, the whole feel of the space, the service, attention to detail and flavours of the food. The sweet and sour carp special udon we had on our last visit was so so good. Oh and we can’t not mention Bageriet, a Swedish bakery on Rose Street, Covent Garden. 8 seats, the smell of cinnamon coming up the stairs from the bakery, chintzy Swedish music and piles of cinnamon buns and kokostoppes to die for. We’ve just started selling their biscuits at General Store too!
You can find General Store at 174 Bellenden Rd, Peckham, SE15 4BW or at http://www.generalsto.re