You know when you go away for a week or two, and upon your return something about your neighbourhood has changed? When I returned from my travels three weeks ago, the change was right in front of me as I struggled out of Charlton station with my bags.
Coomes the bookmakers had gone, replaced with a shiny new Jennings betting shop. It wasn’t just the Charlton Church Lane branch – the Blackheath Standard one had undergone the same transformation, and so has the one at Brockley Cross. Out are the little blue pens and the distant whiff of fags, in come smart staff suits and varnished wood floors. Same old punters, mind.
The slick, shiny new bookies are a culture shock to anyone who ever set foot in a Coomes, a fixture of south-east London’s shopping parades for decades. Not so long ago, if you put a bet on at The Valley, it was a Coomes bet.
Despite the liberalisation of the betting industry some years back, Charlton-based E Coomes Ltd (or E Coomes (South London) Ltd or whichever variant was on the front of your shop) was a defiantly old-school chain. The gambling inside was still obscured by navy blue sketches of jumping horses, racing greyhounds, and soccer action.
No Ray Winstone shouting about in-play betting from home from this firm – it never even had a website. Just shops, staff, and little blue pens. One day, we’ll tell our children we physically had to leave the pub during World Cup football matches to
place lose a fiver on England winning 2-0. They’ll never believe us.
Over the years, Coomes’ star faded. While bigger chains moved aggressively into places like Deptford, the little blue shops started to close their doors for the last time. But now the name seems to be vanishing entirely. A little bit of south-east London will soon be history.
After literally minutes of journalistic investigation (a quid on tonight’s Wycombe v Charlton match*), it appears Jennings – which also trades as Joe Jennings and Betterbet – has bought 17 of Coomes’ best-performing shops. What about the others? “They’ll have gone by next year,” said my man with the odds. “Some of the smaller chains will pick those up.” If you know more, or different, please share it below.
There’s genuine and real worries about the unchecked spread of bookmakers at the moment, with brash chains descending on certain areas to fight it out in places where there really isn’t the cash to sustain them.
But it’s a shame to see a neighbourhood bookmaker like Coomes, where the punters never really changed, fade away. While I’m sure those shops witnessed some unhappy scenes over the years, at least your losses were funding a local business, and they wasn’t harassing you to lose even more on poker or some other game. If you want to see how our uncertain society’s changing – pop in at your local bookie.