The changing face of (academic) retail

The empty King's Shop in November 2017
The empty King's Shop in November 2017

I worked at King’s College London for seven years, and I was a student there a long time before that. I have many memories of interesting projects at the College, but this post is about one in particular—in 2009 I helped to build a new retail space for the university on the corner of Surrey Street and the Strand. My role wasn’t a big deal, and the shop was largely brought to life from the shared vision of a talented colleague and a consultant who specialised in creating merchandise to celebrate great institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and Somerset House. The ambition was fairly high concept and a physical manifestation of the King’s visual identity, shown in striking black and white signage and supported by beautiful features like a refurbished chandelier, heraldic symbols, and inspirational quotes in the King’s corporate font.

The King's Shop on the corner of Surrey Street and the Strand

The King’s Shop on the corner of Surrey Street and the Strand

In my memory, the shop is still fresh and awaiting the delivery of interesting merchandise. Which sadly, for the most part, never materialised. The reality is different, of course. It now stands empty after 8 years of trading, having been superceded by the Union Shop located in the newly opened Bush House arcade.

For me, the Strand is a moving narrative of degeneration and revitalisation. Like much of central London, or an ageing spider or snake, it periodically molts elements of its exterior to reveal something fundamentally different, but—often, although not always—familiar. We know where the shop has gone, but I wonder what the next incarnation of the corner building will be? King’s has long coveted the demolition of the former hotels in Surrey Street, which I imagine would include this building, but somehow I suspect that the husk will simply sit empty for a long time, probably still displaying the declaration that “We’re moving in September.”

Graham Duncan

Graham Duncan

Formerly the Chief Digital Officer at one of the world’s leading business schools, Duncan has over a decade of experience in high profile roles at the University of Cambridge and King’s College London. With a background spanning digital strategy, corporate communications, and the management of technology projects, he now consults widely across a range of sectors.

1 Comment

  1. Michael Trapp on 11 December 2017 at 3:05 pm

    There’s been a shop on the corner of the Strand and Surrey Street for far longer, of course. A number of documents, including a lease in the Duke of Norfolk’s Archives, show that in the 1790s the site was occupied by a linen draper, Joseph Burnthwaite, and John Tallis’s Street Views of 1838-40 and 1847 show a regular shop-front, but without naming the occupant. Subsequent tenants included the grocer and tea-merchant John Clarkson (1850), the fancy stationer Alfred Parker (1860s and early 70s), and from the 1870s to the 1890s, Benjamin Brooks and Sons, fine art publishers. When the present building was put up, in 1905, occupation had passed to the tobacconists Salmon and Gluckstein, who were there until at least 1915. A photograph in the KCL Archives from the 1950s shows that it was still a tobacconists, but by then under a different name. Who’s up next?

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