My Favourite Big Stores
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.
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.