Over the past thirty years or so, I have made a point of checking out the most unique retail stores in every city I go to. It has been inspiring , and has always kept me on my toes as far as trends and display ideas went. San Francisco was an early Mecca for my retail spirit. A (long gone) store named ‘Lillian Williams’ used to import entire shop facades from France and recreate a small street scene inside each of her three spaces.
In Seattle, ‘R.David Adams’ was an incredible florist, decades ahead of his time. Rusty wire plant stands from England, Italian terra cotta pots….an adorable store in a fabulous heritage building in Pioneer Square and a bigger, modern store above Pike Place Market. Both gone.
Portland, Oregon had a whole street of independent retailers that had ‘Point of View’ shops that I used to admire. The street is still there (N.W. 23rd Ave) , but every interesting, tasteful home accessories store is gone. Also in Portland, a neighbourhood known for its dozens of funky antique shops, Sellwood, is barely worth visiting now.
In London, England, my favourite shop was a garden antiques emporium called ‘Appley Hoare’ . It was on the very chic Pimlico Road , right on Sloane Square. They sold fabulous French garden antiques, chipped up armoires and to -die-for pots. They shipped anything, anywhere. Not anymore. Was it just the rent ? I also remember ‘Clifton Little Venice’ , also in London. This was an incredible former private home , stocked with garden antiques . It was adjacent to the still operating Clifton Nurseries in London’s gorgeous ’Maidavaille’ district. I remember visiting on rainy days, with a roaring fire going and having tea with the very charming Peter Hoane, who ran the place for the real owner , Sir Jacob Rothschild! Gone, baby, gone.
In New York city, Takashimaya was a unique retailer/department store who seduced Paris’s #1 florist to open in the front entrance. Christian Tortu turned floristry on its ear. His all-green bouquets, crazy pods and seeds added to bouquets what baby’s breath never could. Both are gone. Which leads me to remember Heronswood, the astonishing nursery near Seattle. My friends Dan and Robert owned it , and it is gone, too. This one hurts the most as I spent quite a bit of time there….what a source of beauty it was.
The well has run dry. I miss my drinks of water.
I could go on, but I am anxious to get my point , my rant, my warning. All of these businesses were independent retailers who died from lack of support. This is easy, and stupid to blame on price. Price is not always unfair or high for what is actually being sold. The sad thing is that neighbourhoods benefit immensely by having charming stores in them. Real estate values increase when successful businesses draw people and create mini-villages within cities.
It used to work. Everything was fine for so long . Remember window shopping ? An idea could blossom into a business that just might make it. It seems to be not true anymore.
I have a dream, but I might as well not.
On the very rare occasion that I am ever in a ‘Costco’ store, I am stunned by the line-ups at the cashier. It doesn’t make me jealous . Mountains of crap in giant carts wait to be gleefully paid for in cash or debit card.
No Visa please. $500.00 ? No problem. That 10 lb jar of Mayo is just what you need! The tube socks will look great on the whole family ! The giant tray of apple turnovers was such a great deal, and the Borg Pile wolf jacket
takes off twenty pounds! You always wanted a Lladro goose/nun figurine !! If it’s huge and inflatable, put one on the front lawn - family heirlooms for sure. Thousands of other people do.
I won’t begin on Walmart. Or Homesense ! Landfill anyone?
By ignoring the efforts and struggles of your neighbourhood retailers,
you are creating a retail moonscape . Take a walk down your own little shopping streets and look at the ‘For Lease’ signs.
I know my own little block on West 41st Ave in Vancouver’s formerly bustling Kerrisdale neighbourhood is experiencing and exodus. There are three women’s clothing stores leaving/closing this summer.
I don’t see any of the 13 banks closing, though. I like my store.
HOBBS opened in 1989, in a former Chinese grocery store. Brent and I renovated it slightly, but tried to leave it intact as much as possible. We pioneered the entire ‘Home Store’ concept . We have watched as the neighbourhood has changed and good retailers keep on closing. Rents and property taxes are absurd ( an average store in our block pays $10,000-$15,000 a month in rent alone). I am getting tired of operating a museum there, myself. Maybe we should charge admission?
‘IF YOU FOOLISHLY IGNORE BEAUTY,
YOU’LL SOON FIND YOURSELF WITHOUT IT’
- FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT