It now appears that Hamleys, the vast and somewhat peculiar toy store whose flagship is in Regent Street, is to be flogged off to the French for £60m. When I was a kid I loved going through the tunnel that connected the back of the store to its annexe, and spent my time between there and Gamages (now torn down).
With Boots heading toward a Walmart sale and increasing amounts of London owned by Qataris, I wondered about the future of this ‘nation of shopkeepers’. Two scenarios present themselves;
The optimistic one is that by selling off the largest brands you allow overseas companies to concentrate on taking them global, leaving a new generation of entrepreneurs to create fresh start-ups in the UK.
The pessimistic one is that you doom the next generation to effectively being a nation of tenant farmers, employees hired to make money for overseas paymasters while never accumulating savings for themselves.
The answer is probably a bit of both, but the UK has a reputation for innovation, and the fightback by small brands and independent shops is very evident on London streets.
The biggest problem now is how to sell volume in areas of high rents. Our local hardware shop, a family business, is closing down after 40 years, leaving the West End with just one such shop that I know of, compared to the fifty billion T-shirt and shoe shops nobody needs. But how do you make money from the sale of a bolt or a tube of glue?