LONDON (Reuters) - Street hawkers and independent shop owners in London's East End have come up with a medieval solution to combat the age-old problem of rising rents.
Fearful that the unique character of their area is being eroded by global retail chains, gentrification and soaring property costs, some 200 businesses have formed the East End Trades Guild.
East London's modern manifestation of an ancient city guild - whose history dates back to the 12th century - aims to establish rent review workshops, trade with one another, and build relationships with developers and local authorities.
A 10,000 pound ($15,900) a year rent rise for one local business led to the guild's creation, secretary Krissie Nicolson told Reuters.
"Most of our members are below 10 people and many are one-man operations, but they're what gives color, light and character to our streets. When they're gone, they're gone," Nicolson said.
Long the impoverished neighbors of the prosperous financial district, badly bombed in World War Two and buffeted by the decline of British industry, the streets once prowled by Jack the Ripper have lately become hot property.
East London has experienced the most dramatic rise in rents in the entire city, up some 13 percent in a year.
The guild's members say that if they are forced out, the London neighborhood portrayed as a gritty urban landscape filled with working class characters in the "EastEnders" soap opera, will become just another faceless shopping district.
Local toy-shop owner Les Bobrow, whose landlord first insisted on nearly doubling the rent on his small site is a good example of what's happening.
Bobrow's store, with its wooden toys, Venetian masks and garish costumes, has seen a sea of designer fashion shops surround him in the last few years, as small independent shops disappear.
"Only two other long-standing market stores remain," Bobrow said.
Reporting By Peter Schwartzstein