In London, 20th century-style shopping arrived in the 21st century. As recently as the 1980s, shoppers stopped in at the butcher, the baker, the fishmonger and the greengrocers almost daily because the refrigerator at home was too tiny for more than a couple days' items.
London's first big grocery store with a parking lot was still on the drawing boards. Many shops were open for half-days only, Sunday shopping was a no-no, banks closed at 3 p.m., pubs closed for three hours in mid-afternoon, and the new enclosed shopping mall on the fringes of northwest London, Brent Cross, was considered a risky experiment.
London shopping changed in 2008
Builders broke ground in 2003 for Westfield London. Londoners found it hard to believe that Europe's largest shopping center was being built on an old railway depot yard just steps from Holland Park and a stone's throw from Notting Hill. As a London resident, I watched construction daily over five years until the grand opening on Halloween weekend 2008. Our jaws dropped to see a champagne bar, a plush multiplex cinema seating 3,000, chandeliers and skylights keeping interiors bright, and such luxury brands as Tiffany & Co., Prada, Burberry, Dior, Gucci, DeBeers and Louis Vuitton.
Westfields offers concierge service, an option that visitors to the city might find appealing. Among the VIP touches you can indulge in, for a fee, before or after some caviar and champagne: personal shoppers and stylists, free parking or valet parking, currency exchange, hands-free shopping, and hotel delivery.
East side, west side
An over-capacity crowd of 100,000 poured in for the September 2011 opening of an even larger shopping mall way across town in East London. Westfield Stratford City boasts 300 shops, 70 restaurants, three hotels, a 14-screen cinema and Britain's largest casino. With everything under one modernistic roof, this is the new gateway to the Olympic Park and took over as the largest urban shopping center in Europe.
Even with the new malls, London remains a paradise for those seeking unique small shops quirky selections, or old-fashioned department stores. Some suggestions:
- Wear your high heels in Bond Street.
- Jostle amongst crowds in Oxford Street or Knightsbridge.
- Check out the semi-annual sales at Selfridges and Harrods department stores.
- Buy knickers, vests, tights and jumpers at Marks & Spencer.
- Check out the indie scene in Carnaby Street or SoHo.
- Catch an outdoor concert with your latte at Covent Garden.
- Grab a tote bag and hit the market stalls at Brick Lane, Columbia Road, Portobello, Borough or Camden Lock.
by Laurie Jo Miller Farr