According to a new Tumblr, London’s gentrification has brought with it a menace that has so far skipped the scathing criticism it deserves. The urban transformation process that brought you low-income displacement, fixed-gear bike gridlock, and stores selling complicated bread at £5 a loaf has spawned a new by-product. It’s black-painted shops with tiny white writing.
Look around many cities and such self-consciously under-the-radar stores are indeed cropping up everywhere. Oh-so-discreet, these businesses slicked over with somber, edgy monochrome are telegraphing a pretty clear message. They don’t want to shout to just anyone about the incredible stuff they’re selling inside. They’re way too cool for that. Instead, they’re saving themselves for genuinely discerning, brand-skeptical people who just instinctively know where the best places to hang out and shop are.
They’re saving themselves for people like you.
Aligning these harmless design tics with the social hazards of gentrification is arguably a little broad. Many of the stores the Tumblr features are in fact located in long-wealthy Central London, albeit in its somewhat hipper Soho section. Still, the photos make for amusing viewing. Take this one for example. Not just a tiny white sign here, but one in loopy handwriting—this Soho noodle shop really doesn’t want you to know what it’s selling.
This café’s unmarked frontage is so blank it’s like it was designed as a mute reproach to the redundant apostrophe on the shop sign next door:
In a London-wide championship to create the tiniest, most eye-screwingly small store sign, Rosa’s Thai Café has just taken the gold.
This burger bar actually became something of a local hate icon when it opened in formerly low-income Hackney last year. At launch it kept the signage of a former occupant—a publicly funded Asian Women’s Advisory Centre—and packed its menu with side-holding, “tongue-in-cheek” references to its former social use. After uproar they painted over the sign, but it seems the new paint job has still got this Tumblr’s attention.
So now chains like this sports shop are spoiling it for everyone by jumping on the black façade/tiny white sign trend? Someone needs to tell the other stores on the site that it’s time to paint over.
Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.