Something for the weekend: Columbia Road Market


The sign hanging in the window of the Rob Ryan store  is our new motto for life.

As I’m sure we’ve said before on The Women’s Room (old brains… we often repeat ourselves) our rule of thumb for being impressed with a store is if it makes our hearts beat faster. When we cross the threshold and we see great product or the shop itself is wonderful and our hearts start to pound, we know we’re onto a winner. Well Columbia Road market, which is going through something of a renaissance, had our hearts pounding in our chests when we visited recently as not only did the flowers and plants look good, but the little stores that line the market are treasure troves full of wonderful things made by local people.

We love a good community and the retailers here feel like a creative group of craftsmen having a really good time before they get very well known. When was the last time you went down a high street and didn’t know a single retailer on it, yet every one was better than the last? The shops are not just full of unique product, they are enticing laid out, with wonderfully creative displays and beautiful attention to detail, it’s worth going just to see the accessories hanging off the bay tree fixtures at L’Orangiere or the cupcakes lined up in vintage display cupboards in Treacle. Built in the 1860s the stores deliberately nurture their Victorian heritage, despite all of the retailers being small independants with no money to spare, there’s a real retro vibe.

There are shops by illustrators such as The Women’s Room favourite Rob Ryan, whose little store opened about a year ago and sells the best sticky tape on the world (ok it’s £10 a roll but that and a bit of brown paper is all you need to wrap a present). There’s an old fashioned sweet shop called Suck & Chew which does vintage sweets and children’s party bags that’ll get every mother wondering where you got them from. Haberdashery store Beyond Fabrics, who describes itself as a purveyor of fabrics, ribbons and gifts and an independant perfumer Angela Flanders, where just walking into the store with its wafts of jasmine, tuberose and lavender was enough for us to want to buy everything. Musicians such as The Bonfire Band play in the streets and there are plenty of charming tea shops and even an oyster shucker to stop and snack at.

Excitingly (well for us anyway) one of the stores, Future Vintage, is owned by Kate, a Women’s Room reader who we met last week at the London Fashion Network’s blogging event. Kate’s store is a carefully editied range of vintage, out of season designer ranges such as Marc Jacobs, Marlene Birger, Diane von Furstenberg and Ann Louise Roswald as well as designer over-makes. She told us that Columbia Road started to get an exciting place for retail about a year ago, when the place filled up with committed and interesting retailers all wanting to create an inspiring community. A few of the retailers such as Kate open on Saturdays as well to offer a slightly calmer shopping environment without the flower market. Apparently at Christmas ( we wrote about it before here) everyone goes to town with decorations, lights and mince pies, so mark your diaries now.

Honestly, it’s a weekend retail destination that will charm the pants off you and restore your faith in independant, creative British retailers, not every store needs to look like Gap. Check out the very well designed website for all the store details and  the market opening hours, most only open on Sunday with a few opening on Saturday. At the very least you’ll come away with a giant bunch of peonies, 20 stems for £10.

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