It will be 50 years next month that the Papanicolaou’s family have run Parthenon Fashions from shop premises at 4 Ambassador House.
Started by Georgia Papanicolaou, daughter Sophie now runs the business. As the women’s clothes shop celebrates reaching half a century in December, Sophie, who will mark her own 30 year anniversary at Parthenon Fashions has seen the best and the worst of Thornton Heath.
Lately though it has been tough as the Parthenon Fashions has aside from Coral bookmakers, been the only remaining open shop on the forecourt with Barclays closing last December and JD Wetherspoon’s pub Flora Sandes in May. In between during the snow the pipes in the office block above the shop burst and Sophie lost stock which she has not been recompensed for.
Sophie remains stoic when many others would have given up long ago faced by the daily rigmarole of rough sleepers, street drinkers, and the stench of urine. Men, unabashed, urinate in front of Sophie much to her disgust and she has to clear away used condoms from the back of her premises which is being used for public sex. She admits to often feeling unsafe.
Sophie said: “I am determined to keep going. I’ve got a commitment to my lease and have to keep going for my mum’s sake. She started this business in 1968 and I desperately want to make it to 50 years.
“I want to keep going but this situation is getting harder and makes me want to cry sometimes. This building should be the best and busiest part of Thornton Heath as it’s what people seeing coming out of the station.”
Sophie has seen Ambassador House go from a bustling office block to derelict. Now only Sophie’s loyal customers will visit the shop . Others who used to travel from far and wide won’t come to Thornton Heath anymore put off by scenes of anti social behaviour.
She is clearly grateful to her regulars explaining: “They are the reason I am here. There is not the footfall anymore and people are disgusted by the state of the building.”
She added: “When I came here all the shops were family run. There was a lovely community and everyone supported one enough.”
Times are bleak but during the recession in the 80s Parthenon Fashions survived through the same situation and was the only shop to remain open at Ambassador House. The Papanicolaou family adapted to the environment and struggled through those hard times.
Problems began when Ambassador House went in to receivership six years ago and instead of there being one owner the leases were all sold off separately.
Sophie said: “If anything happens at Ambassador House they complain to me but I don’t own the building. I can’t wait until 2026 (the date identified in the Local Plan) for something to happen. Why buy the building if you are not going to build something useful.”
Sophie says she ‘really despairs’ sometimes because there are issues every day and while the majority of people are ‘okay’ there is an element of ‘nastiness’. When two asylum seeker women were living in the next shop doorway someone thought it would be fun to set fire to the cardboard boxes they were using as homes. Now a rough sleeper has taken up occupancy in the doorway of the vacant Flora Sandes and these says Sophie are situations that ‘shouldn’t be happening in the ‘21st century’.
Sophie added: “People moan but they don’t collectively do anything about it. One voice is not enough, we’ve all got to stick our fingers out and do something about it.”
She is urging all the parties to come together and have a meeting as she said everyone needs to have a ‘dialogue’.