Top Shop is becoming increasingly dire for my bank account. In M.Kardana, I bought some doorknobs, Pentreath & Hall, I purchased a brush pot, and all I can do is thank god that when I went to this week's Top Shop, Choosing Keeping, it was closed. Closed to the public, I was allowed in to gawp and take pictures, but I would have felt it a real liberty to ask them to get the card machine out and treat it as if I was a Kardashian doing my Christmas shopping. Although I can't say, I wasn't tempted. Choosing Keeping has been my go-to shop for gifts for quite some time. My belief is no matter who you are, you can appreciate one of their notebooks. They are things of beauty, and who doesn't need to jot something down occasionally.
The notebooks are just the tip of the iceberg. Everything that Choosing Keeping sells is considered, 'favouring goods from small, mostly family-owned businesses looking to achieve the golden triangle of historicity, quality and aesthetics.' You can see why it's a Top Shop and why one must give it a visit this festive period!
When did you open Choosing Keeping?
Choosing Keeping first opened in 2012 and was initially located in Columbia Road, a street well-known for its Sunday flower market. Since 2018, we have moved locations and are now at 21 Tower Street in Covent Garden. Next year we will have been in business for 10 years!
What is your favourite piece in the shop at the moment?
Without a doubt, our Christmas ornaments. These are something that falls out of the field of stationery, but a small (and very glittery) allowance we make for the holidays because they bring such joy! This will be the 3rd year running we have sold ornaments, and year on year, I hope we are getting more on point. Just as we do for everything else in the shop, we want to support
smaller personable businesses and the traditional industries they belong to - that is why all our ornaments are made in Europe without exception. We have looked for the most original and eccentric designs using the most intricate and careful production standards. Some are distressed purposefully to look like old ones from the 30s using antique supplies; others seem plucked from Alice in Wonderland and totally mad. It must be a childhood trigger, but I, like many customers, have become obsessed! I think better you only buy one exceptional ornament a year than a tray full of cheaply made ones. Among this year's favourites are this traditional bird and acorns or this amazingly complex whimsical Carousel ornament. Food-themed ornaments are always hugely popular too, 2021 novelties include burger and fries - definitely on the verge of being tacky, but that's the joy of Christmas, very much a camp holiday to indulge.
What is the biggest joy of being a shopkeeper?
People. Our suppliers, employees and not least customers. At CK, all our suppliers are people we actively look to know about and have in many instances met face to face - they are not factories across the world, but friends. For example, my son's birthday is tomorrow, and he will be opening a special edition Japanese Transformer's set as a gift which was sent from Tokyo by a beloved supplier. They know my life as I know theirs, and it helps to bring some humanity to commerce which I hope transpires in the atmosphere we try to create for customers - it's a personal affair.
Similarly, staff and customers become well acquainted. We have many regulars from years back. I think that is missing from online retail and will be missed if Brick and Mortar dies. Shops are a part of the fabric of social life, much like you might find in a bar or restaurant. Seemingly unimportant interactions with strangers, which in fact can be intimate and poignant, enrich your experience of the city. I am naturally a misanthropic person, but being a shopkeeper opens me up to people and their overwhelming kindness. It has made me a more positive person, and I genuinely love to serve customers in the shop.
The worst thing about being a shopkeeper?
I don't want to spoil it for anyone, so I'll keep schtum on this one. But broadly, it's the same as for any other business owner, the lassitudes of administration and finance.
What do you love about Covent Garden?
As a teenager in the mid-90s, Neal Street was my Saturday go-to for shopping. The premises Choosing Keeping occupies today were, in fact, home to the Bead Shop, which was my number 1 favourite place for supplies for making my necklaces etc.
The area has since then lost a lot of its independents, sadly. Covent Garden Market proper, in particular, has been transformed to the point of no recognition. Landlords and local councils bear a lot of responsibility for that (as does online shopping). We have lost several irreplaceable businesses in the last few months, like Arthur Beale at the top of Neal street. Despite the doom and gloom, I still enjoy the buzz of the West end, and that's why I chose this area for my business, it's the meeting point for all kinds of people - tourists, people from out of town looking for a London experience, museum and theatre-goers, actors themselves on their way to the Ivy for a meeting. Generally, people are excited to be in town, and I like to be a part and witness to those goings-on.
Do you have any good local tips? (e.g. good cafes/ other shops you like- anything!)
Sure! Firstly two of the best bakeries in London; Arôme is a French Japanese inspired bakery for technical patisseries with a fusion twist; people line up outside. Bageriet , which was introduced to me by my friends who own General Store in Peckham (another favourite), is a hole in the wall specialising in Swedish pastries. The coconut tower and princess cake come highly recommended by all the CK staff who have sampled them many times. For daily groceries, if you don't know what to make for dinner, why not fresh pasta and cool looking Italian packaging from I Camisa on Old Compton Street - they will make you a sandwich at lunchtime served in cute checkered paper. For a grown-up lunch, try the original The Ivy on West Street, a lot of fun people watching sitting at the bar counter. Finally, I couldn't live without Koya on Frith street, a Japanese udon noodle bar, a provider of Japanese memories minus the expensive airfare and delicious; I always order Hiyashi Kitsune with extra wasabi, please.
(I Camisa & Son, Arôme Bakery, Koya)
21 Tower St,
Tuesday - Sunday: 11:30am to 5:30pm