I love shops. It’s not that I buy an enormous amount, you understand. I just like being in them, admiring the thought and skill that goes into the merchandise, shaking my head at lowering standards of service, and I like the hum of a bargain and the things you overhear. My first ever job was at Leon Jaeggi and Sons catering equipment of Shaftesbury Avenue. My second job was at Madeleines’s of St Johns Wood where on Saturdays I would timidly display confections of French lace. My last job was in a bookshop in Covent Garden where I would continually answer tourists’ enquiries which became more and more random, as in: ‚Freddie Mercury buried near here, d’you know?’ (He is actually buried in Paris.) One thing I noticed in these very different environments was that on average only one in five people who walked through the door actually bought something. Of course this was occasionally because we didn’t have what they wanted but more often than not because it was being in the shop that was interesting to the customers. They didn’t want to take anything home. This is a feeling I know well because I myself like to linger in this way. If you feel low in resources, why not immerse yourself in a department store’s plenty for 10 minutes and recharge your batteries. Standing in a glossy atrium can be very calming. Shops are a good place to wander around if you are at a crossroads in life. They can give you ideas about a possible future. When I was a child, I looked to them for hints about normality. Patio furniture? Gravy boats? Electric blankets? I did not even know anyone who owned anything like that. Of course, escapism also has a part to play in the non-buying shopping experience. Walking into a shop is an easy way of taking a little holiday from your day and your life. The more glamorous the shop, the more extreme the exchange. If you hang about long enough in Stella McCartney’s elegant London town-house store, you can dream that the designer and her delightful friends might just welcome you onto the sofas in the drawing room or onto the terrace. At the end of my next novel Only Human, the heroine Marjorie Hemming dreams of one day opening a shop of her own. ‚There’ll be something for everyone. Somewhere people can come to. They won’t have to buy anything if they don’t want, and everything will be dirt cheap anyway so it won’t make much difference and there’ll be tons of comfy chairs everywhere to sit on and you know we’ll just provide the things that people really need in order to … keep going.’ ‚There’ll be cups of tea and everything, and nothing will cost much, but it will be a proper shop. We’ll have newspapers and nice music and friendly staff with loads of experience who love a chat.’ If such a place should ever come into being, please let the first customer be me.
(adapted from Susie Boyt, Consumer Culture, The Financial Times, 2003)

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