Sunday, May 24, 2009

Queen of Shops Takes On Benighted Charity Stores


Have just learned that Mary Portas, the UK's "Queen of Shops" -- expert on the stocking, merchandising, and selling of fashion, from haute to High Street -- will be presenting a show on refurbishing Britain's charity shops to make them more enticing to those not otherwise disposed to drop in. Non-UK readers, you have no idea what you'll be missing. This encounter will pit combatants formidably armed with opposing worldviews: an ultramodern Mary Poppins of retailing whose no-nonsense, plain-spoken approach to her trade will run right up against a pocket of the land where the ideals of wartime austerity, genteel shabbiness, chipper amateurism, reticence to offend, and, above all, thrift still hold true.

This is, of course, a subject near and dear to my heart, and I'll be fascinated to see how she takes on the issues. The obstacles in refurbishing these places are legendary: no budget for fixtures, a motley and unpredictable flow of stock that given people's closet-clearing habits tends to buck the seasons, sales staff that is volunteer and possibly not disposed to interacting with customers, leaky ceilings, balky steamers, the list goes on and on and on.

But amazing treasures lie within, and that is the gold she can spin . . . with Portas's fantastic energy, enthusiasm, and superb eye (met her at a party last year wearing Nine West's faux snakeskin glad sandals, ran out and bought them the next day, and they're still dead on style for this season . . . ) she will electrify the shops that she visits . . . it will be so interesting to see if she can help them stay lit.

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