With feet like blocks of ice and a semi frozen face, I stumbled in to Armstrong Audio last week in search of a warm cuppa. I’d been trudging around in the snow and was felling pretty sorry for myself when I saw the little coffee shop up ahead. It looked warm, welcoming, and the ideal sanctuary from the cold. I’d been meaning to pop in for a while. I was intrigued by this combination of coffee shop and audio repair workshop, a combination that sounded a bit odd. Armstrong audio isn’t odd though, it’s a fascinating business with deep roots and big plans for the future.
Shamil, the guy behind the coffee shop sat with me whilst I defrosted over a tea. I asked him what the background was behind Armstrong Audio, and was pretty blown away by his answer. The company was formed in Camden in 1932, and was a manufacturer of PA systems, home radios and amplifiers. Their ‘High Fidelity Sound’ range was launched in the 1950’s and was hugely successful through to the late 1970’s. The 80’s saw the market change and the company moved to Walthamstow, and shifted their focus to the repair market. Shamil’s Dad, the owner of Armstrong Audio, worked in the quality assurance department of Armstrong when it was still making radios. He purchased the business when it moved to E17 and has been here ever since.
You can see examples of the radios and amps made by Armstrong in the cafe. The back wall is lined by them and there are some old marketing posters up on the side wall. There are more examples of Armstrong made radios in the repair centre, which is still running out the back. Shamil took me through for a look. It’s packed with radios, amps, and turntables. Beautiful machines with valves, dials, and buttons galore line the shelves. Shamil’s Mum was busy on reception, and his Dad was working his repair magic at his desk. I had a good old chat with his Dad, who told me about the changes he had seen in Walthamstow since the 1980’s. He’s full of info and history, and I stayed much longer than I should have done listening to him reminisce.
The coffee shop uses the space that was once occupied by the reception area for the repair shop. It’s small, but really smart. There are a few tables, high stools in the windows, and a simple but well designed counter. Prices are pretty usual with tea costing £2.00 and coffee around £2.50, and the service was impeccable. I really like it, there was a nice friendly vibe about the place, and the two sides of the business seem to rub along together really well.
There are big plans afoot at Armstrong Audio. Shamil hopes to be able to extend the cafe in to the back of the shop making it much bigger, moving the repair centre to the very rear of the building at the same time. If everything works out he plans to host live music and film screenings in the extended cafe. He is also thinking about putting a studio up on a mezzanine level, keeping a strong link to Armstrong Audios past. Shamil was bristling with enthusiasm and full of ideas, so I can’t wait to see how the place develops.
Armstrong is a perfect example of a business that hasn’t been afraid to evolve to stay afloat. From manufacturer, to repair centre, to a hybrid coffee shop. Its a great little spot that is made all the more interesting because of its roots and ties to the area. If you are around the Blackhorse area, pop in and have a brew and a chat with the owners. You’ll find Armstrong at 32a Blackhorse Lane. Read more about them and their audio repair service here.