The noble art of the sign writer is alive and well, and emblazoned in rainbow-hued, 3D effect capitals along Walton’s County Road.
Put your foot down along this rutted stretch of road (and you can, now the kids are off – although we’d fear for your suspension) and it’s the north Liverpool equivalent of that scene in 2001 A Space Odyssey, when Dave approaches Jupiter through a psychedelic funnel of colours.
If only he’d have taken his foot off the gas, maybe he’d have been able to read the signs: reptile showrooms, phone surgeries, dance-wear suppliers and fancy fireplaces – a roll call of wonders, each screaming ‘slow down, pull over, open the pod bay doors and check out this 99p vajazzle kit.’
Gary’s been cobbling and key cutting for the good people of Kirkdale and Walton for a generation. His sturdy, old-school painted sign has weathered the same amount of winters. He might flog plastic key fobs and iPhone covers, but his fascia is resolutely resin-free plywood and paint.
His busy shop overlooks the handful of outside interlopers crowbarring their way into County Road. The Superdrugs and the Subways: a virus that, so far, Angel Nails, Lucy Lou Designer Children’s Wear and Fudge Boutique have managed to keep in check.
There must be a couple of hundred small businesses strung out between the end of Scotland Road and Walton Vale. Less than a handful are national chains. Take a trip down Walton way, and any talk of creeping Clone town syndrome vanishes in a haze of scouse-anime characters, clashing colours and freestyling fonts.
“It’s got real character,” says Maggie, at the County Road Discount Store. “You go into town and pay a fortune for parking, and you still can’t get what you went in for,” she says. “Everything you need is here. And the shops really value your custom.”
The Charlie Sheen to Liverpool ONE’s Emilio Estevez, County Road is random, chaotic, unpredictable and – despite all indicators to the contrary, refuses to lay down and die. On a windblown Thursday afternoon its serpentine stretch of day-glo shop signs attracts a steady, loyal crowd. You’re always assured of a warm welcome in Tropical Tan, there’s always a party at Balloon and Party world, and they’ll roll out the red carpet at Sure Floor.
When SevenStreets visits, Mike’s Kitchen is doing a roaring trade in all-day breakfasts, outselling KFC’s popcorn chicken three to one. His sign, like some laminated Majorcan menu on steroids, eschews any hint of confusion. It’s a massive picture of a fry up. Call that a Big Breakfast, McDonalds? Have you seen the size of Mike’s sausage?
“You can get all that Subway crap anywhere,” James, a salesman for the neighbouring Pawnbrokers tells us, mid slurp of tea, “but Mike’s scouse is better than me mum’s, and that’s saying something.”
Mike’s Kitchen owner, Mike Mavris points to the fact that, in recent years, 26 shops near his cafe have closed.
A glimmer of hope came earlier this year, when the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), which sets business rates, dropped his valuation, and indicated that fellow shopkeepers were in line for a reduction.
A spokesman for the VOA told SevenStreets “The Valuation Office Agency has been dealing with rating appeals concerning shops in Liverpool 4 postal district, including County Road, and as a result a number of rateable values have been reduced.
“Where reductions are made in this way, we take the opportunity to review nearby properties to make sure they remain correctly assessed. As this process is still ongoing, we are unable to state at this time how many reductions have been made to rateable values.”
We hope they come to a sensible decision, and fast. For, increasingly, it’s only on these ancient roads out of the city that you can really get a sense of where we’ve come from. Our DNA is splattered all over their pavements.
From Walton the A59 marches ever northwards, through Preston and Clithero, Blubberhouses and Knaresborough, all the way to York.
Drive its entire length if you like, but all human life is here.
And Michael Jackson.