The best independent shopping in St Albans
PUBLISHED: 12:03 16 June 2016 | UPDATED: 12:00 27 June 2016
For modern style in an ancient setting, St Albans is hard to beat.
For modern style in an ancient setting, St Albans is hard to beat. The booming city has drawn in a great range of innovative independent retailers, which complement well-known brands. On the winding streets, you will find cutting-edge outlets in 16th-century buildings, attractive pedestrianised shopping areas and a vibrant antiques emporium, all against the backdrop of the magnificent cathedral.
Antique & vintage
For all things vintage, while away a couple of hours at Fleetville Vintage Emporium on Hatfield Road. It’s actually three emporiums with a wide range of stallholders selling everything from industrial furniture and retro kitchenalia to vinyl records and vintage clothes. It’s a collector’s destination and a huge goodie bag of inspirational interior-design ideas.
Family-run LA James on George Street is a picture-postcard image of an antiques shop. Here you will find pottery, antiquarian maps, pewter candlesticks, prints, fine furniture and more. For the ultimate antique, it has a large stock of fossils, such as a 150 million-year-old polished ammonite from Madagascar.
Steamer Trading Cookshop has everything a cook could need and it’s hard not to be inspired by the colourful array of gadgets. Spiralisers are the latest kitchen must-have – they are perfect for adding elegant streams of vegetables to meals and will fool fussy young eaters. ‘We had a woman come in who had been feeding courgette to her daughter without her knowing,’ explains acting manager Claire Baldwin.
For British-designed lighting and furniture, head to Maison Hartley. Owner Jane Hartley was inspired by her uncle, who was a furniture designer and manufacturer with a sense of flair. Specialist store Master in Light will also light up your home in style, while the Bespoke Flooring Company advise on all aspects of flooring. Find reclaimed teak furniture at Raft Furniture and historic paint colours to complement them at the ever-popular Farrow and Ball. For flowers, the little Flower Box at the Village Arcade does beautiful bouquets.
Award-winning boutique the Dressing Room has been voted best independent by Drapers Magazine six times. It stocks contemporary ladies wear from affordable to aspirational and owner Deryane Tadd is always on the lookout for niche brands. The customer base is so loyal that clients come from Italy each season to visit.
Husen Moda also sources stylish clothes from the continent. Manager Lesley Gail says of the affordable fashions, ‘You can dress it up or dress it down. People can come in here feeling dowdy and frumpy and walk out looking a million dollars.’ Other must-do fashion ports of call include Jane and Dada and Simply French. For bags, try Carousel Handbag Boutique. Dress agency Shimto has pre-loved designer wear.
Established as a men’s tailor in 1934, Waterers has been run by the Masi family for more than 30 years. The family believe in old-fashioned good service, as manager Gary Dagul says. ‘We try to make it a relaxed experience, as men don’t like shopping,’ he adds. Anna Hill runs the business, making suit alterations along with her mother.
Andrew Masi (brother to Anna) expanded the family business to open Ceremonia last year. In collaboration with his father, a tailor for more than 50 years, they have used their Italian flair for fashion and knowledge of British fabrics to develop a fine collection of men’s suits.
D Copperfield has been a go-to menswear outlet in St Albans for nearly 43 years. Under new ownership, the store has been refurbished in a light and modern style (think wood, white walls and exposed brick) and now offers more designer brands covering everything from sunglasses to suits.
In love with art
Kuldip Chohan has always had a passion for art and now passes this on to clients. ‘I am a suppressed artist,’ he says. ‘I was never allowed to study it as a child so decided if I couldn’t practice it, I would collect it.’ He aims to give customers at his Gallery Rouge the level of service he would have liked when he started collecting. The gallery has an eclectic mix of originals and prints ranging from abstract painting to photography. For more examples of original art, head to Whitewall Galleries and Graphics Plus.
Gifts that give
Raindrops on Roses is a charity shop with a twist. All the products are new and many are created by local artists. It’s a shop with a lovely ethos – spend in here, save lives out there. Stock includes unusual prints, cards and gifts, with all profits going to combating cancer.
Expect the unexpected from Chloe James. This gift and fashion boutique is a treasure trove of varied rooms. Look out for the charming Alice in Wonderland range. ‘St Albans is a place where people are really keen to keep the High Street interesting,’ says the eponymous owner.
Try British lifestyle independent Oliver Bonas in the Maltings Shopping Centre for a one-stop contemporary take on homewares, furniture and fashion, and Lavender Green for vintage and vintage-style country chic.
Cuthberts toy shop in Christopher Place Shopping Centre aims to give children the experience of a real old-fashioned toy store. It’s a Tardis-like space filled with old and new favourites. Look out for its wooden toys that can be passed down the generations.
Funky British company Tinc sells fun stationery as well as teenager essentials such as headphones, bracelets and backpacks. w
Future plans for the city
Outlined by town centre manager Richard Marrett, plans are in place to establish a Business Improvement District in St Albans which will generate funds from traders to improve the area further while more cultural events are planned.
St Albans hosted its first motor show this year, the carnival atmosphere of the Alban Pilgrimage arrives in June and the city’s popular food and drink festival will be held in September.
‘St Albans is a fantastic city that people are justifiably proud of,’ Marrett says. ‘It has an amazing mix of independent and national retailers providing a vast range of shops. This is complemented by the vibrant evening economy with more than 200 pubs, bars and restaurants with cuisine from around the world.
‘St Albans prides itself on heritage and history, but it’s also a modern city with businesses working together.’
For those who enjoy a hot cross bun (or two) at Easter, this tradition is said to have originated in the city. Brother Thomas Roecliffe, a monk at St Albans Abbey came up with the recipe in the 14th century and distributed the buns to the poor on Good Friday. The Alban Bun is still part of the tradition of the city and is made down the road at the historic Redbournbury Mill. Bakers have remained faithful to the original recipe, which is still a closely guarded secret.