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John Ryan

The Department Store of Yore: Was It Better?

Designer Anya Hindmarch launches “The World’s Smallest Department Store” pop-up

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WHAT SHOULD A department store look like? What should it do?

Currently there is probably some debate over this, as endless repositories of big-name brands have increasingly been playing second fiddle to the brands themselves as they open ever bigger and more sumptuous emporia.

That said, perhaps an answer might lie in London’s very upscale Mayfair. Here designer Anya Hindmarch has opened a pop-up dubbed “The World’s Smallest Department Store.” In truth this is just a single floor shop of a size that might, in a different context, be known as a “mom ‘n pop” store or perhaps a corner shop.

Yet it has many of the elements that you might expect of a department store of old, from the dark wood and glass display cabinets to the carefully furled black umbrellas standing upright in a holder next to the cash desk. There’s even an elevator, although it is faux, with a store guide next to it, at the back of the shop.

And yes, there are brands, but they are not the outpourings of the large international labels, being instead smaller names mixed in with some Anya Hindmarch products. Right down to the over-the-counter service, this is a department store of old and while it may indeed by a pastiche of what many of us will remember, it is a happy memory and one that will perhaps call to mind how retail used to be.

Service, individuality and a slight sense of the quirky are what this one is about, all of which can be present in modern department stores, and are sometimes signally absent. The World’s Smallest Department Store will only enjoy a brief moment in the limelight before it doubtless morphs into something else, but it does serve as a reminder of what good retailing used to mean. Or perhaps these are just the fond reminiscences of an aging retailer/journalist looking back at something that is much changed/has ceased to be.

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