Colourful enclave where a man could once get kitted for Â£10
I was glad to find this little nook of old community Brighton, of pre-trendy-city Brighton.
Browsing idly through my old journals the other day, I lit on this entry for May 19 1994: 'The three little secondhand menswear shops in Church Street, near the Queen's Road junction, all run by curious garrulous characters.
'One ogled me and followed me around his premises (racks of dowdy suits), offered me a newspaper he had finished with. In the second shop a striped jacket I had noticed yesterday was being bought, as I arrived, by a jazz musician who wanted it to perform in.
'He gave details of his gigs (Star of Brunswick tonight): the owner said he'd try to attend. The other two owners '“ they resemble one cheerful family '“ came to join in the chat.
'The third shop was yesterday in a state of total confusion: the owner told me to come back today, but if anything the confusion today was greater, the shop impossible to enter.
'The jolly owner, who always wears a cap, sells shoes for Â£3, jackets for Â£4, shirts for Â£1 '“ '˜You can get completely kitted up here for Â£10,' he promised me (I bought a shirt to be going on with).
'A big man pushing a bike browses the rail outside. '˜What size do you take?' the owner demands, at once producing a jacket for him to examine. '˜Shoes?Â What size shoes do you take?' '˜Nines.'
"'˜You must have small feet,' says the owner, '˜with that jacket size and only take nines.'
''˜I had to have both my big toes removed,' says the bike man. '˜Operation. Used to take elevens. Now I only take nines.''
I had assumed these colourful establishments had long since vanished, but, passing that way, more than 20 years on, I was delighted to find that one of them still survives. It's called Ivy's, at 33 Church Street, and it still sells the same mixture of jackets, suits, shoes, walking-sticks and hats.
A gentleman sat on a chair outside, while the owner '“ he of the cap, as chipper as ever '“ stood in the doorway, tape-measure slung around neck, and they greeted me like a lost friend.
Michael Brown, now aged 76, has been there for 55 years, he told me. It was his father's shop before '“ Ivy was his mother's name. He used to own two of the three shops, while David Rosen had the third. Rosen sold up some years ago, for a goodly sum.
How was trade, I enquired? Not what it used to be. Too many charity shops now. He had two customers this morning, two this afternoon. (While I'm chatting, three young men enter and browse '“ a smart Barbour coat takes their attention '“ but buy nothing, though they promise to return.) He mentions famous past customers '“ Dame Flora Robson on one occasion, on another Maggie Smith, who bought a blazer for her son ('42 inch chest').
Michael was born in an attic just down the street, 'above the wedding shop'. His father was a Geordie, his mother a Cockney. There was one outside loo for the whole yard, no hot water, no heating. He remembers Gerards Court and other now vanished locations. He fetches photographs of himself as an infant and as a Rocker.
His friend on the chair, also called Michael, who hails from Moulsecoomb, addresses me in what he claims is Moulsecoomb patois (it sounds like Romany). They seem to know everyone who passes.
I was glad to find this little nook of old community Brighton, of pre-trendy-city Brighton, still hanging on there, like a rare flower on a scorched hillside. Despite a sign inside, Michael assured me he has no intention of retiring.