No Place Like Home
Neville Carter, manager of N.Peal's flagship London store, reflects on what makes the Burlington Arcade such a special place.
I'm the manager of N.Peal's flagship store at the Burlington Arcade in London's Mayfair and have worked at N.Peal for over 40 years - since 1976 - so it's a huge part of my life. I'm the arcade's longest standing member of staff and normally the first one in the arcade in the morning, and the last one to leave in the evening, it's my second home.
When I first started, the Burlington Arcade was known as the place where everybody came to buy their cashmere - 75 per cent of the stores were cashmere shops - but today there's a mixture of boutiques including watch, jewellery, leather goods, footwear and perfume shops. It's a very beautiful and special place where everyone knows each other, we're a pretty close-knit bunch. You'll find many of the shop owners themselves working within their boutiques at the Burlington Arcade, which gives it a very different feel to Bond Street or Oxford Street. The Burlington Arcade is one of London's most historic shopping arcades. Even though we're in central London, it's really calm inside the arcade. The shops are quite small and unique, and they have a very homely feel to them. We also have Beadles who patrol the space in their traditional uniforms. They make sure all of our customers feel welcome and tell stories about the arcade's history.
In the 1970s, people would get quite dressed up to come and shop here - the men were suited and booted, and the ladies had on their gloves, and so forth. Today's clientele dress a bit less formally, but you can see they are still very fashion-orientated. It's nice to see that somebody has made an effort getting ready, because they're going shopping at the Burlington Arcade. It's an elegant place to be.
We've had many celebrities visit the N.Peal boutique over the years. We have a guest book that they sign, which includes many names, from Yul Brynner and Sir Paul McCartney to Naomi Campbell, who's another regular customer of ours. Some of my most memorable visitors include the actress Joan Collins, who came in seeking a red cashmere dressing gown. Ronnie Corbett used to come in. He was a fan of brightly coloured waistcoats and a yellow one on display in our window had caught his eye. He was very funny, as you'd expect. Sigourney Weaver visited and left behind a pair of spectacles that I'm keeping safe for her. She was a lovely customer so I'm hoping she'll come back for them one day. We have many customers who have been coming to N.Peal at the Burlington Arcade for decades. We have our local customers, of course, but we also have customers from overseas that come to the arcade specially to see us when they are in London. I've developed a rapport with a lot of them, and they'll come into the store to see me on their annual London visits, I think it's because they sense the passion I have for the company and for cashmere.
We also have regular customers who I have never met. There is one customer who frequently purchases one particular style in many colours and quantities, but it's their personal assistant who comes in to collect the pieces. We have a lot of regular customers who prefer to shop over the phone, and then have their orders collected or delivered to them. That's fine with us, whatever makes our customers happy. We're not like a big department store with lots of rules and regulations, if a customer is outside before opening time, there's no harm in letting them come in a bit early. Likewise, if they want to stay a bit longer, past closing time. If a customer wants to come in at a certain time, they can just give us a call. This flexibility is part of the beauty of having a boutique in the Burlington Arcade. I remember serving an American gentleman who wanted to buy a couple of pashmina shawls as we were closing once. I let him in, he purchased a couple and we had a nice chat about Jamaica and rum. I think he was a keen rum drinker. He was recently in London again and so he popped back in to see us and let me know that the pashminas had been well received. It's amazing when customers come in and ask for me, it just gives me joy, having those relationships with our customers is the best part of my job.