LONDON — Sandeep Garg first opened Shreeji in 1982 as a local newsagent and tobacconist in London’s Marylebone area.
Fast forward to 2020 and Shreeji finds itself surrounded by some high-flying neighbors. Across the street is André Balazs’ now-famous hotel and restaurant Chiltern Firehouse, while an array of specialty stores keep cropping up on the street, from the sustainable label Ssone to modern-day tailor Casely-Hayford — all at a time when staying local has gained new meaning.
Cue the reopening and reimagining of Shreeji as a “culture concept store.” Its original identity as a specialist newsagent has been kept intact, but husband-and-wife duo Gabriel Chipperfield and Laura de Gunzburg — who partnered with Garg on the relaunch — added a coffee and pastry bar, salon, reading room and event area.
De Gunzburg, who runs a homeware and design brand dubbed The Artichoke, curated a homeware pop-up at the store’s salon, featuring the likes of Cabana, Gio Ponti and Lobmeyr. She also facilitated a collaboration with Graydon Carter’s online magazineAir Mail, which can be read for free on the iPads dotted around the space.
“There are currently a lot of uncertainties around retail, so we knew it had to be all about the experience. We wanted to turn Shreeji into a space that people wanted to come and see but make sure that we kept it low-key enough to still feel like a neighborhood spot that people wanted to return to,” de Gunzburg said.
Given the slowdown in tourism and people’s inclinations to stay local, Shreeji did transform into “a neighborhood hangout” frequented by Marylebone residents sitting outside to enjoy their newspapers and takeaway coffees.
“We were enticed by the big vitrine, which made the small interior very visible from the street. As it happens this worked in our favor, especially as it has become more of a norm to stay outside due to COVID-19,” said Chipperfield, who worked on the redesign of the space.
“We wanted to take the newsagent space back to what it may have originally been intended for: a shopkeeper’s apartment. We envisioned the back part as a ‘through the looking glass’ experience, and for the front, we wanted it to have a timeless feeling, similar to a kiosk you might find in an old European train station,” added Chipperfield, the son of famed British architect David Chipperfield.
The homeware pop-up in the salon space currently operates on a by-appointment basis and the aim is to host more brands in the future, as well as workshops and talks, once COVID-19 restrictions ease.
Tie-ins with the likes of Gagosian, homeware label and publisher Cabana and accessories label Métier are all in the works.
“We have started to push collaborations with both media companies and also luxury brands. For us it is really about keeping the conversation going and not eliminate any options for ourselves. Ultimately, we did this to be able to share the space with our friends and [anyone] we feel is doing interesting things,” added de Gunzburg and Chipperfield.