My Favourite Big Stores

Observatory

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I judge my favourite stores by the likelihood of me going in there and coming out with something I hadn’t intended to buy.

From that point of view, Selfridges and London’s flagship bookstore Foyles are impossible to beat, because there’ll always be something you didn’t know you needed. As a child, Hamley’s toy store, with its peculiar tunnel running under the road to an annexe filled with puppets, always topped the charts (is the tunnel still there?).

Gamages, the giant department store at Holborn, was our other key destination. The building, built in 1909, was pulled down by vandal-developers who slipped in before it could be preserved and replaced it with – nothing.  The term ‘destination venue’ had not yet been invented, and with one stroke they removed all life from an area that is only now starting to come back into focus.

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If I had to pick a favourite modern store I’m afraid it wouldn’t be in London. Vincon, in Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona, has been there since 1947 and sells everything from the sublime to the very silly, as well as furniture and kitchenware – and because it’s not a chain you often find things here that you don’t see all over the place.

Tucked away on the first floor is an art gallery that changes constantly (see above). This is the place if you need a dog-carrying device or a fold-flat instant seat, and happily the curse of the added coffee-shop hasn’t robbed it of floor space. Their website is here.

I’d like to visit the dazzlingly updated GUM department store in Moscow once Putin and his cronies have finally gone. I used to love Fred Segel clothing store in Hollywood for their attention to detail. I bought a jacket in there, and they said it came with matching trousers but they didn’t have them in my size. I went back nearly two years later and the shopgirl looked up, saw me and said, ‘Your pants are in.’

All other big store recommendations here.

6 comments on “My Favourite Big Stores”

  1. John says:

    What timing! I’m just now reading PLASTIC after serendipitously finding a copy in a local Barnes & Noble bookstore. (Quite a coup if you know anything about B&N and their buying habits.) Your arcane knowledge I see not only includes the history of London but a variety of retail outlets I have never heard of or encountered in the few visits I’ve made to your fine city. And all the brand name dropping. Whew! Much as you denigrate Marks & Spencers’ sandwiches my partner and I loved them when we were last in London. Saved us loads of money on restaurant meals. BTW – I loved the cameo by Arthur Bryant. I think maybe someone mentioned (perhaps even you) but I had forgotten about it until he showed up.

  2. admin says:

    At last, a fan of M&S sandwiches! I always joke that there’s nothing sadder than watching an accountant trying to choose his lunch in Pret A Manger – ‘Shall I have the chicken avocado or the crayfish & rocket today?’ I still buy them, though!

  3. Wayne says:

    Always our choice if we are out without our own packed lunch cannot beat M&S….

  4. Wayne says:

    Oh and your looking good in that photo by the way, very casual!

  5. John Wright says:

    I bought a tarty shower curtain there on my last visit but as it is a constant reminder of my favourite city, it’s proved a hit in NW1.
    Incidentally, have you caught up with a gayish blog about life in el Born?
    http://www.warmglo.blogspot.com

  6. Vivienne says:

    Currently mourning the stopped production of M&S cheese and celery sandwich.

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