A bookshop with a difference, a shoppable motorcycle garage, a one-of-a-kind toy store – unusual small businesses are at the heart of the London shopping experience. The city is filled with thriving independent enterprises, ready to sell you everything from artisan food to emerging fashion brands.
To mark Small Business Saturday UK on 7 December, Culture Trip celebrates the most exciting independent shops in London. The city may be best known for its many chains and department stores, but step off the high street and you’ll find an array of interesting shops, new and old – many of which not only sell amazing products but fly the flag for sustainability, diversity and ethical business trading.
Angel in North London’s Islington is home to plenty of interesting shops. One of the more unique is Paper Mache Tiger, a “retail experience” run by the eponymous fashion and communications agency. It’s the place to go for well-curated designer fashion and ideal for gifts such as scented candles. There’s a café, and its shop is among the most beautiful in London – the large, light room that makes up Paper Mache Tiger is filled with plants and cute tchotchkes (also for sale, naturally), meaning this is not just a store, but a place to inspire.
Expect the unexpected at Shoreditch’s W.A.Green, a homeware store named after founder Zoë Anderson’s grandfather. Anderson is a former designer, and you can tell – her shop is an explosion of colour and features everything needed to create an eclectic home. At W.A.Green, beaded Ife heads by Cameroonian artisans share shelf space with American potter Jonathan Adler’s decorative acrylic pills, and rat lamps by Italy’s Seletti hang out with handcrafted elephant stools from Jodhpur. It’s kooky, creative and a world away from the high street’s cookie-cutter design stores.
Pelicans & Parrots is the perfect clothes shop – friendly, stylish and filled with such carefully chosen items that you’ll almost always find something you like. The vintage store has been a Dalston fixture since 2010, an impressive feat in an area that’s constantly changing, but there’s a good reason for its longevity. Pelicans & Parrots offers quirky home decor and great vintage clothing chosen by founders Juliette Da Silva and Ochuko Ojiri, with a focus on Italian fashion brands. Prices are good, too, which makes this a convenient place to drop into when you need a party outfit for a night out in one of Dalston’s many bars.
This women-run plant store is a feel-good, green oasis on the busy Chatsworth Road. Opened by a Clapton resident, Botany has a vast selection of plants, as well as dried flower bouquets, wreaths and accessories such as pots and watering cans. Botany also hosts pop-up art exhibitions and a variety of workshops that teach people how to take care of their houseplants and make bouquets.
East London’s Labour and Wait was a Redchurch Street fixture way before the area got completely gentrified, and its unique selection of functional tools and hardware has spawned many a copycat. Though you can now browse a small selection of its goods in high-fashion department store Dover Street Market, the original Labour and Wait shop is still a must-visit. Its beautiful yet functional everyday items evoke simpler times but feel very appropriate for modern life, with the focus on sustainability and quality over quantity.
Portobello Road in West London is well known for its large antiques market, but there are so many more good reasons to visit the area. Just a short walk will take you to Found & Vision, a charming store whose vintage clothes often find their way into fashion editorials and many celebrity closets. Founded by stylist Karen Clarkson, originally with clothes from her own collection, the shop is full of incredible vintage designer pieces that have stood the test of time, as well as artworks and lots of eye-catching accessories.
Jones of Brockley is a strange grocery store. No wider than a generous wardrobe, and packed to the gills, this family-run shop sells, well, anything it likes the look of. It gets the fruit and veg that looks best that week, whether it’s some interesting breed of tomato, onions as big as your head or bags of foraged herbs. There are cured meats, cheeses, Spanish calasparra rice (the very best rice for paella-making) and much more. Jones of Brockley stocks everything you’d find in Selfridges Food Hall, but in an easier-to-navigate space.
This deli has been a local favourite due to its delicious coffee, friendly service and impressive selection of food ever since Harry Davies, a lifelong De Beauvoir resident, opened it in 2009. The De Beauvoir Deli makes its own sandwiches, salads and sausage rolls, but also sells food from other suppliers. It’s a treasure trove for amateur chefs, who can find fun things such as pomegranate vinaigrette and an array of spices, and people who are just craving a tasty sandwich.
Sustainability is at the forefront of Bring Your Own, whose business model is in the name: you bring your own containers and fill them with the store’s products. The well-designed shop in South London’s Nunhead has everything your pantry needs – soy sauce and maple syrup on tap, grains, dried fruit, wine and vinegar, as well as cleaning and beauty products. The plastic-free supermarket is part of a new wave of stores that puts the emphasis on produce rather than packaging, and a welcome addition to London’s food-shopping options.
Leila’s is both a food store and a café. The shop part sells dried goods by weight and will refill bottled drinks and creams as a way of making food shopping more sustainable. The little deli and adjoining café were established in the late 1990s and are owned and run by Leila McAlister. The charming café is a popular breakfast destination that has an old-fashioned vibe that suits the 19th-century architecture of the surrounding area: Arnold Circus in Shoreditch. Expect well-made, seasonal food from local producers, and enjoy the smartly designed yet rustic interior that brings to mind a more upmarket farmer’s kitchen.
As close to a Tehrani bazaar as you’re likely to find in London, this eternally busy Peckham gem is a one-stop shop for all things Persian (and one of the few places to buy dried fava beans, for those looking to make proper falafel). However, Persepolis isn’t merely a repository for baharat (a blend of several spices) and bright-yellow pickles, it’s a place where you can pick up hints and tips, courtesy of owner Sally and her husband, Jamshid. There’s a restaurant (cheekily named Snackistan) inside the space, serving a variety of all-vegetarian Persian specials, much to the pleasure of South East London’s student population.
Are you in the market for banshee balls, fang floss, a jar of moonlight or cubed earwax? Fear not – Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, which prides itself on being “London’s, and quite possibly the world’s, only purveyor of quality goods for monsters of every kind”, can sort you out. The fun, inspiring store has lots of things that will appeal to kids and adults who haven’t lost their imagination. All profits go to the Ministry of Stories, a creative writing and mentoring charity for young people – “due to a rather inconvenient curse”, according to the store.
Present & Correct was founded by two graphic designers and sells new stationery, pens and other office-desk necessities, together with beautiful vintage items. It’s a dream for anyone interested in design and typography, and has everything from linen-bound diaries, calendars and stamps to typewriters, pen pots and desk trays, as well as postcards and notepads. You’ll recognise the petite store from the oversize pencil in its window; visit to stock up on work accessories or just to get that nostalgic back-to-school feeling.
It’s hard to describe Aladdin’s Cave as a shop. This space, a former train station between Lewisham and Brockley, is, quite simply, full of stuff – hundreds of chairs, mirrors, books, frames, paintings, door knobs, sofas, paving stones. Thankfully, things are vaguely grouped together, but that’s just about all the help you’re likely to get. Oh, and there aren’t any prices – you have to ask someone who looks like they could be staff and hope for the best. But, in among the clutter, you can find exactly what you’re looking for, sandwiched between something you’d never buy and something you never dreamed of seeing. It’s unique, to say the least.
The idea behind Libreria is both unusual and appealing: a bookshop that aims to “encourage interdisciplinary thinking”, meaning that the shelves are categorised not by genre nor in alphabetical order, but by themes chosen by the store, which was founded by social business Second Home. These themes include “Wanderlust”, “Bad Feminist” and “The Sea and the Sky” – thought-provoking groupings that inevitably lead visitors to stumble on titles they might not otherwise have come across. The Borgesian interior, with mirrored walls and ceilings meant to evoke an infinite library, adds to the compact bookshop’s charm.
Signwriting practically died out when vinyl signs were introduced in the 1980s, but people are once again appreciating the art. Ged Palmer is at the forefront of the resurgence with his store, The Luminor Sign Co., which is inspired by an East London sign shop and letterworks that closed in 1938. Palmer learned the craft the traditional way and worked his way up to where he is today – the owner of a design studio that offers exquisite, 100 percent hand-lettered design, signwriting and gold leaf. It’s a triumphant return of classic craftsmanship, made for a modern clientele.
One for the bikers, BOLT London launched in 2013 to champion the motorcycle scene in London and throughout the world. Its Stoke Newington shop is a cool, social space filled with motorcycle clothes – both from its own range and other independent brands, such as Kelly Miller’s leather jackets, as well as helmets, accessories and art pieces. BOLT’s garage builds custom motorcycles, and the brand also hosts workshops, gigs and events in its courtyard. It’s a truly independent shop with plenty of community spirit.
Kids of the ’80s and ’90s are in for a treat at Finsbury Park’s Sylvanian Families Shop. The North London store is the only bricks-and-mortar space in the country dedicated to selling the miniature animal figures, not to mention a huge range of tiny accessories and adorable doll’s houses. With its green and gold facade, striped awning and shop sign painted in the brand’s signature typeface, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into the Sylvanian Families world before you’ve even walked through the door.