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Archive for May 17th, 2011

London Offers the World’s Most Exciting And Historic Retail Shopping Scene

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

Recently I had the opportunity to take a quick business trip to London. As always, I made sure to save some extra time to enjoy the street life and unique shopping opportunities that abound in this historic city. I am a perpetually reticent shopper. In London, however, visiting shops is a form of entertainment that can’t be matched by any other city. Even I succumb when in this great old city.

What makes London shops so unique, in addition to their age and history, is the sheer number of doors that specialize in highly targeted types of merchandise.

Department stores originated in England in the 19th century and prospered as the country was at the forefront of the industrial revolution. John Lewis, Selfridge and Debenhams are just a few of the grand old emporiums that line frenetic High Street. The Knightsbridge area is home to two of the most exclusive stores in the world: the iconic department store Harrods and posh specialty couture purveyor Harvey Nichols. But it is the small eclectic shops that provide the town with a unique flavor that is hard to find in other shopping Mecca’s like New York City, Chicago, Tokyo, Paris and Berlin. 

The largest, finest toy store in the world is the original Regent Street location of Hamleys. For over 250 years this wonder world of fun, whimsy and visual excitement has been a lure to families from all over the world. The selection is immense. There are always product demonstrations and unique displays spread over Hamleys seven dynamic floors. Over five million people visit the store every year.

Saville Row, the home of bespoke British gentleman’s tailored clothing, military uniforms and hunting togs has been centered on this famous little back street for over 200 years. Dozens of small, artisan tailors such as Gieves & Hawkes have provided custom clothing to discerning men since the 18th century. Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson, William Pitt, Paul McCartney and Lawrence Olivier are a few of the famous figures dressed by Saville Row tailors. 

The specialty food and drink shops are ubiquitous. The food hall at Fortnum & Mason is among the finest in the world. The range of caviars, fish, condiments, fruits, cheeses and world famous marmalades is amazing. The store is unique in that it alone maintains a Royal Warrant to stock the Royal Family’s larder. 

Since the 17th century Berry Bros. & Rudd have supplied London society with a vast supply of drinks.   James Knight of Mayfair provides the freshest, most incredible array of fresh fish I have ever seen in one spot. Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden is famous for its selection of British and Irish cheeses. Books for Cooks stocks and sells over 8000 titles on all things cooking, food, drink, gourmet and nutrition.  The Villandry, in addition to a wonderful café, displays the most amazing oils, vinegars and herb selections one could desire. 

The Spice Shop inventories 2500 bespoke oils, spices and rare ingredients in a beautiful little shop. Paxton & Whitfield is London’s oldest continuously operating cheese shop. Dales Crumbly and Soft Bloomy are just two of the hundreds of exotic, prized cheeses, plus charcuterie, biscuits and cheese accessories that Paxton & Whitfield has offered since 1797. Twinings Tea Shop is the oldest cafe in London and offers a huge variety of teas and coffees from every corner of the old British Empire. 

Whether you seek stationary products, writing implements, tobacco pipes, hats and millinery, equestrian accessories, antiquities, soaps, perfumes and personal care products,  military medals and campaign ribbons, wading and hiking boots and so much more, there are specialty stores in London that have been providing these goods, often for 200 years or more. A very British tradition, and a mark of their reverence for history, is the plaques that mark the front of these old establishments. Each tells a story of the enterprise ensconced and is a reflection of a nations pride in its valued institutions. 

A visitor can endlessly walk the streets of London, browse shops and department stores and not spend a farthing. I wager this jaunt will be among the most pleasurable days a traveler could ever spend anywhere. I know I can’t wait to return and see what is new in these old, wonderful stores.