Kenilworth Upper is one of Cape Town’s oldest suburbs with a rich architectural fabric. At the heart of the area, sits Kenilworth Village – its Main Road which provides a high-street style shopping environment.
With the rise of shopping centres in the eighties and nineties and the accompanying change in shopping patterns, Kenilworth Village lost most of the appeal it once boasted.
Big changes started when the Pam Golding Property Group redeveloped their old main road office building into a mixed-use office and retail environment, Pam Golding on Main which opened its doors in 2015. This introduced the country’s second small format Pick ‘n Pay local store enabling the community to access a full grocery store offering.
“It has been an interesting project with a long history” says Peter Golding, CEO of Pam Golding Commercial. “I grew up in Kenilworth in the 1960’s and the Main Road was our local shopping precinct – it really was a village in those days with its post office, butcher, chemist, corner café, clothing boutiques, banks and even an electrician”.
The Pam Golding Property Group’s first formal office opened in 1976 in Kenilworth. The business took up small office space in Kenilworth Village and as the company grew, they eventually occupied the entire building.
“During the 1980’s, in my early days at Pam Golding Properties, I would often approach the owners, a local family, to ask whether they would consider selling the building. When they eventually agreed to sell, we purchased it for a high price in the 90’s. This was really the start of this project.”
“We always had a good sense that Kenilworth was a strong neighbourhood. Bishopscourt is just around the corner together with the upper Kenilworth, Claremont and Wynberg nodes which have strong schools like Wynberg Boys and Girls, Herschel Girls School, and the Western Province Prep School. From a demographic point of view, it is perfectly positioned.”
Kenilworth Village’s decline over the years was, to a large extent, due to the landlords. “They were typical old-fashioned landlords who just collected the rent and put a ‘plaster’ on when something went wrong with a building. They did not believe in renewal or regeneration. They just kept things ticking over. Kenilworth kept getting more and more tired over those years and we believe our building was one of the catalysts in Kenilworth’s rejuvenation.”
The Pam Golding Property group spent fifteen years deliberating, thinking, and planning the redevelopment of their office building which included acquiring the municipal parking lot at the back of the building.
“We had to go through the laborious process of trying to buy the municipal parking lot. We were the immediate neighbour, so were able to offer to buy the site without having go through a public tender process, but we had to get independent evaluations and go through internal department checks which took forever. Eventually, we successfully acquired the parking lot and started the planning for the new building. The whole process took about seventeen years from the time we acquired the building until Pam Golding on Main made its debut in 2015.”
Steadfast retail favorites of the Village, such as the Kenilworth Super Meat Butchery, Noyes Pharmacy and Oakhurst Farm Stall, still occupy the same locations on the main stretch across the road from Pam Golding on Main. With a redevelopment on the cards for the Noyes/Oakhurst building this will add a further positive element to Kenilworth Village.
“A lot is happening in bits and pieces. There is a general improvement and I believe this will continue. A further big driver will be the redevelopment of the building across the road” says Peter.
One of the reasons that newcomer Therapy Boutique chose Kenilworth was Pam Golding on Main. It opened its first store directly across the road.
“There is the appeal of ‘going back to the village’ and having a sense of community with Oakhurst Farmstall, Noyes Pharmacy, and a plethora of shops to choose from. Having lived in the UK for fifteen years, Kenilworth Village reminds me of a London high street” says Bridget Pickering, co-owner of Therapy Boutique.
Therapy Boutique is the brainchild of Bridget Pickering and Ludwig Bausch, the designer duo behind the women’s wear brand Rufftung. With an ethos to support local, their store provides a platform for over thirty local brands featuring everything from fashion and jewellery to lifestyle products.
Rufftung’s working studio is situated in the area and Therapy Boutique opened its doors in Kenilworth Village in March 2019.
The collateral damage to ‘support local, love local’ was unbearable for Bridget and Ludwig. “After going into lockdown, we spent the first couple of weeks trying to figure out what we were going to do. Through the power of social media and our online shop, we focused on brand features. The feedback that we have received was great and we are starting to see the footfall come in as a result. Now, I think there is a big question about what local is” says Bridget.
Reopening during Level 3 of the national lockdown, business started picking up and the duo believe that one of the pros of lockdown is that people want to avoid big shopping centres, preferring a smaller environment where they can access everything they need.
“I think it is important for landlords to find like-minded businesses that fit within a community” says Ludwig. “There is no point having two clothing businesses right next to each other. Instead, build a small hub of variation so that people are attracted to the area. The problem with lower Wynberg’s Main Road is that you see all the same businesses and it just becomes diluted. Build a village rather than repetition.”
Bridget and Ludwig are also behind Kenilworth Village’s ‘First Thursdays’ initiative.
“Nothing happens in Kenilworth, so we ran First Thursdays for our first year. We would stay open until 20:00pm. Our customers would come in, have a drink, and shop up a storm. We also introduced Gin Fridays – an excuse for our customers to get out, to network and to meet the designers behind their favorite local brands” says Bridget. “It makes it more personable.”
With plans to pick up ‘First Thursdays’ again, Bridget and Ludwig have recently started hosting the odd Gin Friday with strict Covid-19 protocols in place.
“The word ‘therapy’ means ‘support system’. We are building a support system with the locals and the community” says Ludwig.
“Park at Pam Golding on Main, grab a coffee at Bootleggers, go get your nails down at Sorbet and cross the road to visit our store, Noyes Pharamcy and Oakhurst Farm Stall. There is a little community where the hype is happening. We have become a destination” says Bridget.
The way forward
Unlike the surrounding suburbs of Claremont and Wynberg which have City Improvement Districts (CIDs) in place, the homeless have been sandwiched into Kenilworth and the area is experiencing a significant vagrancy problem.
Peter says it has become a challenge and it is quite hard to manage as landlords. “We try to discourage the residents from giving out monetary donations and to rather support the wonderful NGOs and organizations in the area by providing the homeless with vouchers”.
There has been a call to create a CID for Kenilworth, but it has not yet been successful. “This is mostly due to too many residences relative to the number of businesses. In Claremont, there is a strong CID because there are large retail and commercial elements. When we tried to establish a CID a year or so back, we saw that the majority of residents of Kenilworth preferred to live with the ‘status quo’ and were not supportive of the additional levy that would have been imposed by the City” says Peter.
Kenilworth resident and activist, Henk Egberink agrees that the concept of a CID did not work. “We were too ambitious with too large an area to cover.”
“The CID concept came about when people complained to the local DA office about the crime in the area. What was put on the table was a cost increase of 10 to 15% on top of rates and taxes which could be quite costly for your average person.”
Subsequently, certain areas in Kenilworth have created individual ‘neighbourhood watch’ groups with their own security arrangements.
“I do not believe the crime is as bad as people believe it to be” says Henk. “I have a lot of sympathy for the homeless. We are looking into professional car guards to discourage the homeless from earning money from street begging and pretending to watch your car. This will cost a lot of money, but through this, we will be able to reduce the number of homeless people.”
“We would love to be able to provide a facility for the homeless and I have identified a few City Council sites. I have met with the local councilor Ian Iverson and a representative from social development to see where we can work together to try to create a facility for the homeless in Kenilworth” says Peter.
“With a CID, all that happens is the displacement of the homeless. They are going to go somewhere else, so you are not solving anything other than ‘not in my backyard’ and which I believe, is not the right attitude. Pushing people into another area is not solving the problem” says Peter.
Henk believes that Cape Town’s idea is to have everything in the city centre which is unproductive. He notions the concept of the 15-minute city – placing developments, offices and manufacturing close to where people live. “This is what I like about Kenilworth and Pam Golding on Main. They created office and retail space where there were shopping opportunities which changed the environment.”
“Cape Town has different ideas of what they consider to be spatial planning and they are spending the budget in central Cape Town which to me, is the wrong way to go. Traditionally, we have always said that business is situated along the main arteries of a city and I believe Cape Town can take quite a lot from this. You would expect developments along Wetton Road and the M3 but because they are built in such a way, this is not possible. We are going to have to ensure that this is where the real change in thinking takes place.”
He would also like to see the buildings on both sides of the main road replicate Pam Golding on Main with all cars in the area banned and the plantation of trees along the stretch of the Main Road.
“If Kenilworth Village is to attract new businesses, limiting cars and trucks is a necessity. Currently they are a danger to pedestrians because cars, trucks and busses do not follow the traffic signals. If you allow some wide cycle tracks along the pavement, it will essentially become a hub of its own and in turn, you will see the businesses get more traffic and footfall.”
“Shops all over the world are getting to the stage where you can walk, and shop and you are enticed by the storefronts. Kenilworth Village does not offer the opportunity to entice you because you cannot walk. Everyone parks as close to where they need to be, whipping in and out”.
They specialize in finding sites where people do not believe there are any developable opportunities available.
“In a city, there is always another layer of densification which happens. We densify with these layers in areas which may look fully developed but there are a whole new range of development sites waiting for this new way of development” says Matthew Quinton, Director at Aquacor.
Aquacor is involved in updating neighbourhoods. Matthew believes that there is a difference between updating a neighbourhood and updating the gentrification. “We do not gentrify. We go through a neighbourhood with a crop of generational buildings which are no longer fit for purpose where we can build and redevelop.”
Kenilworth ticks the box as one of those neighbourhoods and the suburb is undervalued by virtue of its position.
“You just need to look at the edge definitions of a neighborhood” says Matthew. “Look at Kenilworth and Pam Golding on Main – there is a small Woolworths, a Pick ‘n Pay and Bootleggers. Retailers always pick up on the need before anyone else. They could see that there was pressure in the area.”
Matthew believes that Kenilworth has been going through an upgrade cycle for the last ten years. “If you look at neighbouring Claremont, it has gone through a massive upgrade cycle. I believe that Wynberg will be the Kenilworth of the 2020’s. I predict that Wynberg will start to see quality development towards 2030 and this is where I believe Kenilworth is now – on the cusp of achieving this.”
“I believe that once the building across the road has been redeveloped, the Main Road will reach its maturity level – a bit like Claremont. I do not believe its character is going to change – you still have the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker in Kenilworth. Hopefully, the village atmosphere will be retained. Kenilworth has history and there is a strong community focus which has not been lost” says Peter.
By Gemma-Louise Perrins