A good shopfront has the power to seduce and intrigue, advertising a sense of heritage, forward-thinking, or possibly even a strange marriage of the two. In London Shopfronts, a new book by Emma J Page and Rachael Smith, the stories behind 100 of London’s most iconic facades are told.
These stretch from from the Grade-II listed James Smith & Son (a family-run umbrella shop that has brightened up New Oxford Street since 1857) to the 1950s mosaics of Broadway Hairstylist in Muswell Hill, which still features fantastic 1980s headshots in the window.
Now that physical experience has once again become an important facet of shopping, dining, and pampering, this collection demonstrates the many different devices proprietors have employed to get customers through the door. Take the Arts and Crafts glamour of Liberty department store, for example, or the humbler stylings of Wenty’s Tropical Foods, where the quality of the produce (stacked on tables outside) speaks for itself.
“While the aesthetic pleasures of the storefronts are obvious, they also point to the more complicated realities of the city”
While the aesthetic pleasures of the storefronts are obvious, they also point to the more complicated realities of the city, where gentrification and development have often forced out independent businesses. Plenty of the establishments represented here have survived for generations, with stories that speak of defying the odds as the streets change around them.
There are also newer businesses here, too. For example, affluent shoppers often find themselves browsing in formerly humble, restored surroundings. The faded name of a former purveyor might remain above the door, even when the contents have evolved from everyday items to luxury fare.
Holly Black is Elephant’s managing editor