1907 - Changing faces
One of the major changes in shopping in the present century has been the decline of small-scale specialisations. Diversifying - selling a much wider range of goods, most often as a result of a merger between businesses - could be more profitable for retailers but it called for more space. With the move towards larger stores, many of their original premises have either been enlarged by the acquisition of adjoining properties, or sold off to smaller businesses because the available space was too limited for the scale of latter-day activities. In cases where a shop has stayed in the same ownership on the same site, it is fascinating to see how its appearance has changed over the years. This large city-centre branch of W H Smith has been extensively remodelled throughout the century until, outwardly at least, very little now remains of the original 1907 shop front. Details such as the fascia lettering reflect the styles of the period. Note how cluttered the window displays now seem. This was the accepted custom for many businesses in an age when people evidently had time to stop and look at everything on sale. How does a shop create its own identity, to distinguish it from its competitors on the High Street?
WH Smith Beginning as a newspaper deliveryservice, WH Smith moved into the retail trade in 1848 with a chain of railway bookstalls - the first in the world - that at one point numbered well over a thousand. In the early 1900s the firm greatly expanded the number of retail shops it controlled. Most branches had their own lending library although, with changing social habits, the last of these closed in 1961. Along with the other multiples, WH Smith quickly realised the importance of having a strong corporate image. In 1907, the company philosophy was that 'a high standard of appearance in a shop produces high-class business which is both profitable and satisfactory.' While Boots the Chemists built neo- Tudor style shop fronts, WH Smith's design co-ordinator, Frank Bayliss, favoured oak-fronted or painted facades with small-paned windows (with the occasional 'bulls-eye' for period effect) and careful detailing in the Arts and Crafts tradition pioneered by William Morris. The beautiful lettering was by Eric Gill. Elegant and restrained, the house style was a reaction against the perceived 'vulgarity' of Victorian plate glass. The shop-door was usually centrally placed and kept open, except in the coldest weather. The news-stand was in the porch; the design of the entrance was such that it funnelled customers into the inviting interior. The same London shop was remodelled in 1937, retaining the deep arcade but with the exterior now in the fashionable 'international' style. By the 1980s, a new visual identity had been created that could be applied not just to shop fronts but to staff uniforms, carrier bags, own- brand merchandise and all the other accessories of modern retailing.
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