Pandemic or not, we tend to talk only about what we see, even though we instinctively know that things are not always what they seem. We often divide the new and old, without imagining how the two might blend. But now is an enlightening time for long-term stories of adaptation, that show pandemic response in a broader context.
In my pending book, Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character (release date still pending), I tell the story of a London fruit stall that is no longer operating as a conventional open-air stand, and its apparent absence from the city’s several outdoor markets and street fairs. The traditional urbanist, or tourists (after they return) with today’s fascination with festival markets, may sense failure rather than a transition.
But an institution may live on in a different model, in a morphed context more suitable for today. A London fruit stall can sustain in new forms, and its architecture is not a necessary factor to an enduring local business. Location, culture, as well as overlays of architecture, only tell part of the story.
The story of Bobtail Fruit in London is a story of change, from a stall in Covent Garden named for the owner to five brick-and-mortar outlets around the city to a current web-based delivery business of quality baskets of fruit, and milk. Bobtail still prioritizes customer and community service in the former locations of its stands (such as the delivery of gifts at holiday time), along with an expanded delivery area hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Physical space no longer defines the sale process, now warehouse-based in a retrofitted rail-line arch and subject to a wholesaler who supplies the fruit. But, a customer service imperative dating back to Covent Garden days remains key to the business. The orientation around places of sale is no longer, gone with the brick and mortar Bobtail Stalls at the Temple tube station, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Southwark, and London Bridge.
What some would term “authenticity” survives based on family heritage and pride, and of a way of doing business that focuses on a perpetual orientation toward customer satisfaction and community service. Even in challenging times, a legacy continues.