Tom O’Neill catches up with Mario Turan, of Poleo Dry Cleaners on Brixton Hill. You can read more of Tom’s work over at his blog.
Along with a big smile, a laugh and a strong Cypriot accent, Mario Turan loudly greets one of his customers with the inimitable words, ‘I know which clothes are yours because I can smell you Mark! I also know which trousers are yours.’
Mario has a way with remembering things, which I can attest to after taking a wedding savaged suit to Poleo Dry Cleaners on Brixton Hill. Mario barely looked up from the notes he was making, saying ‘Ahh it’s Tom from the wedding. Grey suit.’ It’s the memory of a proper shop keeper.
‘Back when I first had this place in the 80’s all these shops were different. You had the greengrocers where the antiques shop is, a little newsagent and you won’t believe this Tom [Mario calls you by name a lot] but there was a Fish and Chips shop were the hairdressers is! It was very different. When you did your shopping back then you went back and forth across the road and we all knew each other.’
This inevitably prompts me to ask Mario what he thinks of the spate of Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s coming up on the hill and he replies with a firm, ‘I don’t agree with that. The problem with these supermarkets is that there’s no communication. Where is “hello”? Where is “good morning”? Sometimes you can just go in to these places, pick up your stuff, show it to a machine and you’re gone! We don’t talk to each other anymore. There’s no neighbourship.’
This creative flash of wordsmithery encapsulates what many fear is starting to fade from the area but Mario immediately brings this wistful image of the England of yore crashing down with a fairly stark description of how Brixton Hill actually looked when Mario first had the shop.
‘There were rats everywhere and houses were derelict. You also didn’t want to walk around here too much late at night. There were muggings, prostitutes, pushers…’
‘Since about 2003 you got people coming here with a bit more money and the whole area looks nicer. The houses aren’t falling to bits and everyone seems happier. It’s also been good for my business and I feel much happier about my families future.’
It’s a comforting riposte to the negativity which often surrounds the changing face of Brixton to know that it has kept a local business thriving, but Mario does worry that there might not be anyone in the family to pass it on to with one of his sons becoming an electrician and the other a personal trainer.
But Mario is an indefatigably positive person and this brief concern is almost immediately swept away as he swings into one last tale.
‘This policeman was sweating away the other day when it was really hot outside so he came in and had a little rest and I gave him a glass of water and he asked me a bit about the shop. I told him how long we’d been here and he couldn’t believe it! He said to me, “You’re an institution!”’
Exactly what kind of institution is for the customer/audience in Mario’s seductively olde worlde style dry cleaners to decide. If you ask nicely (or not at all) he might do you a coffee and tell you a story as well.
Poleo Dry Cleaners – 114a Brixton Hill - 020 8674 4873