Two of the world’s greatest, oldest, and largest stores are found not very far apart sitting on prime acreage in central London. Let’s have a look inside Harrods and Selfridges, open seven days a week.
Harrods Grocery Roots
American visitors often remark they find it odd to shop for luxury food in a department store. Established as a grocer in East London in 1834, Charles Henry Harrod moved the business to a single room location in Knightsbridge 15 years later. Today, the famous food halls are an important part of the million-square-foot space, which can see 300,000 on a busy day during summer and post-Christmas sales.
From 13 flagpoles above its signature green awnings, Union Jacks flutter on Harrods’ exterior adorned by cupolas, pediments, parapets, swags, and Ionic columns. The Latin motto appears, “Omnia Omnibus Ubique,” proclaiming the landmark is all things for all people, everywhere. Interestingly enough, Harrods has not been under British ownership since Egyptian-born Mohamed Al Fayed purchased it in 1985. Known as father of Dodi who perished alongside Princess Diana in 1997, Al Fayed sold to the Qatari royal family’s investment company in 2010 for $2.3 billion.
Come Boxing Day on December 26, both stores experience post-Christmas sale frenzy, complete with shoppers camped out overnight in order to be among the first through the doors. They arrive via bus load from across England, Scotland, and Wales, queueing up behind stanchions for for their turn at armloads of discounted Gucci and Chanel, among other coveted labels.
The Real Mr. Selfridge
Mr. Selfridge, the PBS Masterpiece classic docudrama series starring three-time Emmy Award winner Jeremy Piven as a convincing Harry Gordon Selfridge, was captivatingly set in post-Edwardian London. The Oxford Street flagship store was opened in 1909 by the American-born, Chicago-trained entrepreneur and showman. Selfridge’s history mirrored England’s, as it experienced pivotal ups and downs through two World Wars. Today Selfridges & Co. is as much a centerpiece of London style as it was more than one century ago.
In 1909, on the auspicious opening date of March 15, some 30 policemen were required for crowd control as Selfridge’s opened its doors for the first time. Selfridge had created a groundbreaking launch for his elaborate landmark filled with coveted items artfully displayed under crystal-embellished ceilings. Londoners had not seen anything so forward-thinking in retailing approach. A library, reading room, rooftop garden tea café, and bargain basement were unheard of, not to mention an interior display of the Louis Blériot monoplane, first to make a cross-Channel flight that same year.
In both stores, the notion of putting the customer first has made an enormous impact. Mr. Selfridge has been credited with the famous line, “The customer is always right.” At Harrods, more than 4,000 staff are carefully recruited, conforming to a strict dress code and receiving thorough training.
Visit Both Stores
If you know the underground passages and the short cut through Hyde Park, a 25-minute walk will take you between both London stores. Go from Oxford Street’s Selfridges, with the world’s largest shoe department, to the front door of Harrods, decorated by 11,500 white lights, in the heart of Knightsbridge.
If you’re headed across the pond for December holiday time, here’s a taster of the pageantry and parade filmed by the longtime coachman of Harrods’ old-fashioned horse drawn delivery carriages.