Besides our flat, there is no place in London I have spent more time than
#8 Waitrose and John Lewis.
I am a HUGE fan of these two chains and their parent company. And yet, I am never able to satisfactorily articulate why I think they’re special and not replicated in any sense in the US. Yes, Waitrose is a grocery store chain. Or I guess as a British person would say: supermarket? Food shop? I don’t even know. And yes, it sells food on shelves in aisles. I guess it looks sort of ordinary. But then you shop there a few times, and it’s eternal love and I know most people feel the same.
The staff of these chains are also the owners, so it’s no coincidence they come off extremely professional, personable, helpful- from the person stocking shelves to the one at the till. For five years I have seen the same people working the tills. No turnover has to mean something good is going on.
And I have a deep, deep, deep and abiding crush on the very clean, fresh and sometimes whimsical store-brand product design.
It makes me want to buy everything Waitrose-brand, which isn’t hard since they seem to make their own brand of everything, even the unexpected.
And I’ve mentioned that I never have to wait in a queue when I’m done with my shopping.
The true reason Waitrose blows me away is that I can shop for food and never once turn an item over to read the ingredients. They just don’t seem to stock foods made with curious chemicals, partially hydrogenated trans fats, ersatz ingredients, or anything that would give me pause in feeding it to my family. (With one categorical exception: the American food products it sells.) But this fact doesn’t mean Waitrose bears any resemblance to an expensive pretentious granola-fied chain like Whole Foods. I love Whole Foods – it has a place in my life – but it’s not an everyday kinda shop. Waitrose can be an everyday kinda shop. They sell what you know and what you like, but more likely to be made the right and real way. Like cheese puffs: a lifelong favorite of mine. I didn’t know until I moved here that delicious cheese puffs could be made with puffed corn, dried powdered cheese, and salt. I am changed.
And before I am totally done talking about Waitrose, it’s worth mentioning that not everyone pronounces it the same. I have met Americans (albeit, a very small percentage) who have just decided without good reason to call the store “Wait-Rose”, emphasizing the “t” as the end of the first syllable. I hate those Americans because EVERYONE knows it’s “Way-trose”, with the “t” actually leading the second syllable as a blended “tr” sound.
Even the dumb internets can’t agree.
But the smart internets can. Seriously, click on it. It makes me laugh every time!
John Lewis. Part of the same partnership as Waitrose, it’s a great, solid department store. Again, good service, nice, quality, reliable, well-presented store-brand lines. Everything you need is in this store. Including a food hall. The one on Oxford Street I have been to 3,000 times has a baby & kid products mecca on its 4th floor. Thus answering one of those burning questions some Americans have when they arrive: But wait, you don’t have a Target or Babies R Us nearby? How then can I possibly bring a child into this world? Oh, John Lewis.
John Lewis is kind of what Macy’s would be if Macy’s was consistent and awesome and more John Lewis-like.
Oxford Street is just crazy. (Photo stolen.)