Shopping for the Unique London

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Retail is hurting because of competition with Internet shopping. And I believe it’s suffering because shopping has become so boring. The shops on Main Street in almost every city around the world is practically the same. So when I travel I am looking for something unique. Sure I love Anthropologie, but I can always shop there at home. London used to have more unique shops. Now I search for them. Of course the atmosphere is still London-ey.

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Nothing says London like a classic black cab.

Neighborhoods are distinct and some streets are closed to auto traffic. Plus London still has some large and unique department stores. My favorite is Liberty (not Harrods). And when I got to Liberty I have to go to the floor with Liberty fabric and Rowan yarn. I also love Liberty’s customer service and their help with getting VAT refund.

You can get a VAT refund if you buy goods worth over 50 pounds. Save your receipts and take advantage of help from the first shop where they will give you the VAT refund envelope. I prefer to make time when I depart to go to the VAT refund desk (all the way to the left in Heathrow Terminal 2) before I check my bags. Sometimes they ask to see the goods. You can get cash (but what to do with a bunch of foreign currency?) or get a refund to your credit card (preferred). If you forget or run out of time, I believe you can also mail it in.

Swatch: Liberty of London

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Originally built in 1885 and opening to Regent Street, the store front was redeveloped using retired British naval ship timbers in the 1920s.

I have long drooled over the Liberty of London fabrics and clothing. It is harder to find the fabrics in the USA. J Crew carries some of the clothing. I have been to the fabric corner of Harrods numerous times to stroke and oogle the Liberty fabrics, the whole time not realizing that they have an entire department store near Oxford Circus!

I had just started the #5 Jane Austen walking tour (more on this in future blog), when I looked down Argyll Street and spied Liberty stores at the end of the street. I had to detour.

Starting with the stunning florist at the entrance, the entire place is a palace of beauty. My heart beat faster as I tried to take it all in. I quickly recalculated the day I planned. I was not going to rush through this store. I wanted to soak in every display, every lovely English item.

Liberty does not just carry their own brand. You can find Stella McCartney baby outfits in the children’s section and designer clothes throughout. I started in the stationary shop and looking at bags and scarves. Some of the prices were quite reasonable and some made me hyperventilate. I bought some notecards and decided I may as well sign up for the loyalty points program because I was headed to the third level where the fabric and yarn is displayed.

I thought I might be going to a yarn shop in Islington at the end of the day, so luckily I had tucked in a couple of patterns that I plan to knit for my expected grandson. I shed all my bags and jackets and prepared for a good long browse.

Trudy asked if I needed assistance. We had a wonderful time trying to sort it all out with different weights and US and UK measurements. She is a very experienced knitter and we shared back and forth. The wifi in the store is excellent so I was able to show her Little Cotton Rabbits (I could hardly believe she had not seen this UK treasure!). She showed me her knitting project. In the end I spent more than I expected and I could not be more pleased.

I looked through many more departments and I stopped in the cafe for tea and an English cheese tray. The lovely customer service department refunded my VAT. Yet, the highlight for me was shopping with the assistance of Trudy Healy-Potter. She is a textile designer and offers classes at Liberty.

She showed me how she spliced three patterns from the Rowan loves…¬†pattern book to create the colorful sweater she has almost finished. Not only am I excited about the projects I will be knitting this summer in anticipation of Grandson #1, I am reenergized about the craft overall. Liberty is so clever to have Trudy on their team.