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Pining for the past

04 August, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Derek Holder in his pine shop, which will soon close due to a rise in rent

DEREK Holder always got into a good mood the moment he was about to open his shop in Malden Road, Gospel Oak – the seductive smell of pine made him feel good.

Soon, sadly, that may simply be a memory.

Derek, like many small shopkeepers, is being forced out of the shop that became his life because of rising rents.

Yet, the more I talked to Derek, who comes from a long Hampstead family lineage, the more I realised he was more than just a shopkeeper – he was a craftsman in the traditional sense, a craftsman who, accidentally, opened a shop selling pine furniture 23 years ago and fell in love with the smell and feel of the wood.

So much so, that he would often shape and reshape parts of pine furniture in the backyard of the shop, teaching himself, as the years went by, the tricks of the carpentry trade.

He had been earning a living as a delivery driver when he thought of starting a little business of his own selling pine furniture and took over a wool shop, the Spinning Wheel, which stood near St Dominic’s Priory.

It seemed he had found his niche for life until needling problems started – fewer places for customers to park, competition from online shopping, and then his landlord, who has behaved honourably over the years, felt he had to raise Derek’s rent.

He mentions in passing how a council official promised they would move a parking meter to make it easier for his customers to park – and then waited and waited for 18 months – and he is still waiting.

His wife Nora, who teaches English literature at a Westminster college, is equally unhappy, as they face the end of their dreams.

It’s not as if Derek is an outsider, who comes in from afar to run the shop. He is born and bred a Hampstead man, he says, with a certain pride in his voice. His grandfather lived in the Well Walk area, his father likewise spent most of his life in Hampstead, while his mother swore she would never leave it.

But that era is coming to an end as Derek prepares to close the shop door for the last time.

I wouldn’t have known Derek’s story if a reader hadn’t sent a letter to the New Journal, describing his shop as a “landmark” that on a “beautiful day could be mistaken for one of those traditional shops in pretty Cotswolds…”

The anarchic free market is often prettified and dignified by its supporters – the reality is quite often brutally different.


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