For those of us who didn't know it then, it's hard now to imagine what the eastern end of Church Street was like before Alfies Antique Market opened in 1976. But the man behind Alfies, Bennie Gray, remembers it well: "The place was semi-derelict," Bennie recalls, "half the shops were boarded up and there was a terrible problem with vandalism."
Now, Alfies (formerly Jordan's department store) has a strikingly executed Egyptian-style art deco façade, a rooftop café and around 100 antique dealers trading here. And the adjacent part of Church Street has some 20 shops selling twentieth century antiques. Many of these shops started life in Alfies, which is the largest antique arcade in the country.
The Market is a treasure trove where you can buy a huge range of antique as well as vintage / retro goods from the 20th century including vintage fashion and accessories, modernist furniture, costume jewellery and 20th century decorative arts.
Bennie, who was born just round the corner from Church Street on Cosway Street, is justifiably proud of the impact Alfies has had on Church Street. "I'm unashamedly happy to say that the regeneration of this area is in large measure down to the success of Alfies. When I first had the idea, plenty of people said I was mad and that it was doomed to failure - which is just the sort of incentive that makes me go ahead with a plan."
"When I first had the idea, plenty of people said I was mad and that it was doomed to failure - which is just the sort of incentive that makes me go ahead with a plan."
As well as Alfies, Bennie owns Grays Antiques in Mayfair and he is the driving force and owner of the Custard Factory, Birmingham's arts and media quarter based on the 10-acre site that was once the Bird's Custard factory.
Bennie's appetite for a challenge is clear and he's been involved in many projects over the years, usually involving the re-use of ageing and dilapidated buildings in which he has an uncanny ability to spot regeneration potential. The other key ingredient is his passionate belief that small businesses and business start-ups are the lifeblood of a successful economy, both locally and nationally.
Finally, where does the name Alfies come from? "That was my father, a brilliant jazz musician, but sadly, not a great antique dealer."