Covent Garden’s Outdoor Shops

covent-garden-in-the-rain

A wet dull day in London. Umbrellas filled pavements and people peering out from behind cafe windows.  Hopeful for a respite from the damp gloom. On such a day, I took an early morning wonder around Covent Garden.

My last visit was many years ago. I have to own up to the fact that I have a soft spot for the area. The decision to locate the first Rohan shop in London was, I remember, difficult not only because of the high cost of any real estate in the capital but also choice of location. We wanted a location that offered diverse experiences for families, good reasonable places to eat, shops that offered the new and different and easy to get to for our lunch time shoppers. We scoured London for such a place. This was the mid 1980’s, things where a little different then. Few locations filled our criteria that we could afford.
It was early morning in the mid 1980’s that we took our first serious look at Covent Garden with a view to locating the first Rohan shop in London. We strolled up and down the streets in and out of the market area. We watched the people, looked at the shops that had located in the area. The area had languished in the early part of the 20th century until the central building, the old fruit and veg. market, re-opened as a shopping centre and tourist attraction in 1980. The potential for developing a recreational calmer mix of shops and activities was obvious. Space and optimism abounded. It was the natural home for the first Rohan shop in the capital.  Stanforth’s was just around the corner. Now all we had to do was find the right vacant shop.
Henriettta Street offered a computer retailer (Acorn Computers) that wanted to vacate the shop fittings and all. That was the one – we jumped at it. If you visited Rohan Covent Garden in the early days and pondered why the shop was configured as it was. Simple, we used all the fittings and the original configuration of a computer retailer, a rare breed in the mid 1980’s.

I guess the rest is history. The Rohan Shop moved from Henriettta Street to Langley Street. Rohan Covent Garden has been tremendous for Rohan customers but something else has happened. The area, in the subsequent years, has clustered with outdoor and travel shops. On my recent walk, I counted fifteen. A search on Google reveals even more. This lead me to reflect on why areas just like Covent Garden become centres for a particular speciality.  How do they happen and are there any others?  They are not planned and no one individual master minds the strange happening.  The one that comes to mind is Savile Row – a street full of bespoke tailoring. Cluster together to serve shared customers. The collection is stronger than the individual. Most of us know the street Savile Row but naming the fine tailors not so many. I wonder if that is the case with Convent Garden.  Maybe it’s all a little new, after all Savile Row has been plying its wears since the early 1800’s.  In a few years, the cluster of travel and outdoor equipment expertise, so evident in Covent Garden will be world famous.

So this is the question folks which was the first outdoor shop in Covent Garden? I think Rohan was number two?

Sarah Howcroft

One Comment

  1. Andrew Dann says:

    I remember going to Covent Garden in 1978 to join the YHA at its office/shop in Southampton St, just round the corner from Henrietta St. I think that the YHA was the nucleus that most attracted the other shops. After all, somebody who had just joined the YHA was very likely to be buying boots, back pack and outdoor equipment almost immediately.

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