I first bumped into Harriet, the owner of the New York Deli when I was shooting the Garlands/Rules of Play portraits, my very first portrait shoot. Ian from Garlands told me that once I’d met Harriet, the rest would fall into place because she is considered to be a ringleader for the Arcades.
And it’s easy to see why. I spent just an hour or so with Harriet, chatting about the Arcades in general, the shop itself and a variety of other things and learned so much, so I can only imagine what you could glean after a much more extended period. The New York Deli has been in Cardiff since 1990, after Harriet and a friend had a sudden flash of inspiration that there was nothing quite like it around here.
Originally from America’s East Coast, Harriet has lived in Wales for 30 years (and there’s no sign of her accent disappearing yet…) and is still, after almost 21 years (the Deli will be 21 in April) as unwavingly passionate with a never say die attitude as ever.
It’s a relatively new decision to keep the Deli open on a Sunday, as, if you walk around you’ll notice that a large amount of the other shops are closed. Harriet believes this to be a big mistake when you’re trying to compete with St David’s, which of course is open all hours. It’s hard to know who to blame here, you can understand shop owners needing a day off, but at the same time, Sunday is a big shopping day so it does seem foolish to remain closed.
Harriet has tried to convince as many of the shops to open on Sundays for a while, to varying degrees. While at certain times of year it works (Christmas for example), today a lot of them were indeed closed and it does give the arcades less of a buzz than a Saturday, which is a shame.
What really fires Harriet up, along with a lot of the other owners of course, is St David’s 2. Understandably frustrated with the amount of press the behemoth that St David’s attracts, it’s also becoming increasingly frustrating for me to hear certain, surprising, things that even as a Cardiff resident I wasn’t aware of.
For instance, Harriet told me, the huge John Lewis store, frequently hailed as Cardiff’s saviour during the recession and permanently packed out with customers, is enjoying a 20-year rent free grace period. 20 YEARS. And what’s more, she claims, they have absolutely no commitment to stay after those two decades have lapsed. That’s a HUGE, HUGE amount of space with one of its biggest overheads eliminated – is it any wonder it can boast massive profits?
It seems clear to me that Cardiff Council really aren’t doing enough to promote this jewel in the heart of our city. Where are the signposts pointing out the Arcades? You’ll find plenty for St David’s, but nothing for the Arcades. Outside the city, traffic signs direct you to, of course, St David’s, and once you’re there, they intend you to stay there.
Of course, the Arcades are privately owned properties, so perhaps it’s not the council’s problem to make sure the footfall is good, BUT, considering that they are all Grade 2 listed buildings, should all of the shops be forced to closed, we will be left with a huge area of disused space that would be pretty much an embarassment to the city.
There also could do with being a LOT more media coverage for the Arcades. Why aren’t local papers shouting from the rooftops about this asset? Harriet checks the papers frequently and says the arcades are lucky to get a story every few weeks, whereas virtually every Saturday there are several on St David’s. With “being a bit different”, “shopping locally” and so on being very much in vogue right now, it seems that the local, and national, media are missing a trick here. More to the point, why don’t Visit Cardiff, or the Welsh tourism board do a bit more?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, maybe nobody does, but I should probably get off the soapbox now before this post becomes more depressing than it needs to be!
Also in the shop today were Alex and Dan who kindly also agreed to pose for portraits for me. Dan protested that he wasn’t “very good” at portraits, to which Harriet chirped in that he was a very good sandwich maker… which is pretty lucky considering the location.
One of the most famous items on the New York Deli’s menu is The Hoagie. I learned the history of the Hoagie today too, which is a charming story. Harriet explained that the Hoagie finds its origins in Philadelphia, from the workers who used to take giant sandwiches intended to last a whole day, to Hoag Island, which could only be accessed when tide was out. Hence the name hoagies. The story is a bit similar to how the Cornish pasty evolved, and it was fascinating for me (as a dedicated food obsessive) to learn a bit of food history.
Harriet told me probably a million things more, and it was all brilliant, but I’ve either forgotten it or I’m worried about boring you with my writing, it probably isn’t doing what she actually said any justice anyway, but I think it’s fair to say I’m sure I’ll be popping in whenever I can for a quick natter (and update on Arcade politics).
I genuinely don’t believe you’ll find anyone more committed and more passionate about the Arcades than Harriet. Not only this but she’s friendly, up for a chat and dedicated to her loyal customers. You could do a lot worse than to pop in for a cup of tea, a famous Hoagie and watch the goings on inside the Cafe. Only a couple of weeks ago the New York Deli was crowned best sandwich shop in South Wales, so make sure you get down there now to sample the delights.
Enjoy the pictures, as always, any feedback is very gratefully received… as ever there are more in the New York Deli Flickr set if you want to carry on viewing.
Here’s to the next 20 years…
EDIT: Since this post was published I have been contacted by the PR firm responsible for St David’s 2. They would like me to point out that Saint David’s vehemently denies both the 20 year lease period claim, and also the further detail made in the comment below.
I have amended my second comment to “As that approached and the 75% figure was not achieved,” as I can’t remember with 100% accuracy whether 25% is the figure Harriet quoted.