We talk about destination hotels, restaurants and shops – places that have the ability to attract people into an area in their own right. But what would happen if you put a cluster of these destination shops into one street? Would that change the dynamics and if so how? I had an opportunity to find out during a visit to Lambs Conduit Street a couple of weeks ago as part of the assessment visits for The Academy of Urbanism Awards. The purpose of the assessment was not about destination shopping but its part in shaping the character of this street was clearly important.
Lamb’s Conduit Street is a short walk from Warren St and Holborn tube stations and a pleasant 10 minute walk from St Pancras International. It sits in the heart of Bloomsbury, once famed for The Bloomsbury Set, a group of creative free-thinking intellectuals. Today, it is a conservation area comprising a mix of residential rented flats, offices and shops. Around the corner from Lambs Conduit Street, is The Cockpit Arts with over 100 creative designer-makers. Great Ormond St Hospital is located close by.
Lamb’s Conduit Street is a relatively short and narrow street with restaurant and café tables spilling out onto the pavement and bicycles informally chained up to railings including some of the bicycles for sale in the specialist cycle shop. Between the police station at one end and the local doctor’s surgery at the other, Lambs Conduit Street is home to a number of destination shops that use their retail outlet as a showcase for their products, all of these shops trade on and offline.
That means the business model is very different to the usual independent shop. They are not predominantly reliant on walk-up trade; their shops are a route to buying into their brand and to experience it in a special environment. Several of the owners mentioned supplying John Lewis and Harvey Nichols but if you want to see their full range then you need to visit them here and meet the owner-manager-designer. The shops are places to browse and connect.
Some of the shops are about selling personal passions from books of largely forgotten and mostly female authors to ‘interesting good things for the home’. Location is important to the businesses; they all spoke of the supportive business community. The importance of that community shines through their websites some of which talk about other shops in the neighbourhood with as much enthusiasm as their own. It is subtle but effective cross-selling. The subliminal message is ‘You like what we stand for and produce? Then try out our neighbours who we love too and come and experience the place where we choose to be located’.
This is less a shopping street and more a street of businesses who want to share their creative passions with you. Somehow that nuance is what makes the street different. It is a street to browse, to be inspired and to meet up with people. Of course not everyone has come here because of a particular shop but I suspect that is how many people find out about the street unless you happen to work close by. Even then it would be easy to miss it, Lambs Conduit Street manages to feel like a personal discovery. Not easy to achieve in the centre of London.