Edamame beans and tote bags: Waitrose finally opens in Camden Town


LIKE the first folk to dance on the Moon, Waitrose planted its green flags into the Camden High Street pavement and announced its arrival yesterday. A watershed moment? Here’s hip and trendy, alternative Camden Town, now with added papayas and unwaxed limes.

Of course, Waitrose are not the NW1 pioneers for big name arrivals: Marks and Spencer, just a few doors down, has ruled the roost when it comes to razored carrot and houmous dips for several years here. But it’s a funny lot isn’t it, stand outside Camden Town underground at the weekend and droves of young tourists in rucksacks bigger than their own bodies pour out having been directed by guidebooks to our quirky corner of the capital. Within moments, they end up asking you for directions to McDonald’s. It’s just past Burger King, opposite Gregg’s.

The other week Costa opened its fourth branch in Camden Town – quite nice in there, still smells new and there’s a nice view of the canal – while Pret, Starbucks and Cafe Nero all have a couple of outlets too. It makes the stubborn refusal of Regent’s Park Road in Primrose Hill to keep out chain coffee places even more impressive.

imageI digress, for this was Waitrose’s first day, satisfying the people irritated that Holloway Road and Swiss Cottage had one but not Camden Town. Inside, the first rack you saw, like the store was parodying cliches, were knobs of fresh ginger and bottles of Elderflower Pimms. Beyond that assistants asked us to sign up for a Waitrose card, which somehow means you get a free coffee or tea every day. This scheme is the one which led to the national story that regular customers were concerned too many ‘chavs’ were turning up at the door.

And, like it or not, and more likely they like it, that’s the image that Waitrose has, one of hoity-toity folk living like kings because they can afford to pay a little bit more for some coriander leaves and sniffing at the Lidl mob on the other side of the road. Of course, a mass we might lazily term as the ‘middle classes’ love this mocking, well worn stereotype, join in with the joke but they are still the first through the door when it opens. The same thing happened over in Crouch End, where Waitrose opened next to a Tesco, which was already next to a Budgen’s. Too many supermarkets are ruining the village, came the moan, before the silly sods excitedly joined the queue for fresh tortellini at the new Waitrose.

So surprise, surprise, everybody looked rather normal in the new Camden Town branch yesterday. I KNOW, who’d have thought it? Nobody scowled at me for my stubble and poorly ironed shirt. There was one woman perusing the frying steaks who had walked straight out of an arty hair salon with 90 degree wedges and more make up than The Joker, but hey this is Camden Town, I think we like it that way. But nobody was calling for Jasper or Millie… or Orlando. It was like it had been there forever, good thing or not, like NW1 was instantly its natural home.

To mark the occasion, I bought a large pot of edamame beans and was rewarded with a free Waitrose Camden tote bag, so that I could at least leave feeling special for getting something for nothing, and they’d have another free walking advert strolling down the High Street. 


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