Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Harrods in London is, without a doubt, one of the world's most famous department stores. Its name is recognised from New York to Tokyo, in Eastern bazaars and French boutiques.

This famous London landmark, third only after St. Paul's Cathedral and Big Ben in popularity with tourists, is a shopping extravaganza covering 330 separate departments. In its elegant surroundings you can arrange for the monogramming of all your linen, buy a wedding trousseau fit for a princess, or clothe yourself in haute couture to dazzle the finest in London.

In spite of its aura of wealth and glamour, Harrods' famous Food Halls are used by many Londoners living in the vicinity of Knightsbridge as a 'corner' store. Not only are the staples available in varieties unimagined by most, but gourmet luxuries such as Beluga caviar abound. For those with a passion for chocolate, indulge in a sweet moment at the 'Chocolate Bar' on the second floor where melted chocolate sipped through a straw facilitates the ultimate sugary fix.

Harrods specializes in providing culinary delicacies for its customers, but it also puts on great entertainment.

As I browsed in what must be the most opulent grocery emporium in the world, an elegant quartet dressed in black tuxedos and playing violins serenaded shoppers with well-loved classical melodies. And then, when the lilting strains of a Strauss waltz floated across the vast Hall, an Australian visitor, overcome by the music and the moment, grasped his teenage daughter around the waist and whirled her in a dizzy one two three, one two three, around the food counters. The staff looked on in astonishment.

Another musical event takes place daily in the store. A contingent of Scottish pipers, magnificently dressed in kilts of Harrod's own specially designed tartan, complete with sporrans, black jackets with gold trim and tall black bearskin hats, march through the store playing the wild music of the Scots. Mr. Al Fayed, the Egyptian Chairman of Harrods, is a great admirer of the Scots.

Is there ever a dull moment in this magnificent place? There is not. On a normal day Harrods can expect in the region of 300,000 visitors. But there is a time when the pace becomes even more frenetic. Twice a year, soon after Christmans and again in the summer months, Britain's most momentous sales take place. The events are advertised worldwide and as an additional crowd-puller there is always a celebrity to declare the sale officially open. Among the celebrities in years past have been America's Burt Reynolds and Charlton Heston, Britain's Roger Moore, famous for his James Bond roles, Australia's wickedly outrageous Dame Edna and Sarah Michelle Gellar of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame.

Eager shoppers start queuing the night before, bringing their sleeping bags and picnic hampers with wine, to while away the dark hours.

As opening time approaches staff members stand on the ready awaiting the signal that will start a flood of humanity through every one of Harrod's eleven entrances.

From then on close to 5,000 staff with 500 extra taken on for the sale, work with little respite until closing time at 6 pm.

The takings for the first sale day alone can be near the $9 million mark. With all those customers and all those parcels is it any wonder that the familiar green and gold shopping bag of Harrods has been seen in such places as the Serengeti Game Reserve in Africa and on the slopes of Mount Everest. It is extimated that 12 million of these bags leave the store each year.

Harrod's security guards are under special pressure on sale days. With close to 350,000 shoppers more intent on finding a bargain than looking after their money, all their ingenuity is needed to prevent a field day for the pick-pockets.

There are also the occasional flarings of temper when two customers, one on each end of a strained ballgown, are determined to get their own way. The timely mediation of a tactful security guard has on a number of occasions reminded the ladies of 'British Good Manners'.

Where there is money in quantity there is sure to be a 'con man'. At one of the sales an ingenious thief managed to get hold of a cash register identical to those used by Harrods. It was placed on a trolley and wheeled into the store where he mingled with the other temporary staff.

With 300 extra tills in use during the sale who was to know that he was there, not on behalf of Harrods, but intent upon his own enrichment. Before long he was directed to a busy department where he presented his fake I.D., set up his register, and started taking in money. When his till was full it was loaded onto a trolley and the cool-headed thief made for the exit. Thanks to Harrod's security guards, he and his cash register were apprehended in the nick of time.

From Anne, "World Travel with Anne"


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