One of the things I love most about exploring the streets of London, especially the East End (corresponding to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and the southern part of Hackney) is the innovative style and personality that the shops and their owners strive for. It's like attending a worlds fair, one shop to the next offering everything from custom stitched sofas, to taxidermy workshops, to hand crafted headphones and of course, cushiness from all around the world.
London has the reputation of being extremely expensive, and fair enough, in some parts it really is. However, there are plenty of deals to be found, and plenty of locals who demand to have a good time without spending all their wages. Happy hours are around every corner, and sometimes encompass the whole afternoon, from 12-8, leading you to think it should be just called happy days. Many pubs offer a "dinner and a drink" special as well, resulting in a very good value. The endless supply of watering holes, often with names ending in Arms, so and so's Head, or referring to a animal of some sort such as a pig or a rooster. I was fascinated to learn that "Many public houses are centuries old, and many of their early customers were unable to read, but could recognize pictorial signs".(1) This certainly makes sense as many of the signs have colorful and very recognizable people or creatures on them.
One spot in particular that struck me as being a great example of London's innovation in commerce is in Shoreditch, and called The Boxpark. It's made up of stripped, and refitted shipping containers, creating unique, low cost, low risk pop-up stores. Filled with a mix of fashion and lifestyle brands, galleries, cafés and restaurants - "BOXPARK places local and global brands side-by-side, creating a unique shopping and dining destination. Opened in 2011 by founder and CEO Roger Wade, BOXPARK Shoreditch is not some run-of-the-mall shopping centre. It's a living, fertile community of brands packed with talent, innovation and attitude." (2) From the roof of Boxpark where I am writing this post, there are picnic tables with large umbrellas, heat lamps, and free WiFi for customers. Across the way you can see the TEA Building, a innovative "hive of creativity" as they call it and home to small and large businesses. Down the street is RichMix, a social enterprise offering live music, film, dance, theatre, comedy, spoken word and more. In particular, I feel they have a very rich dance line up coming in 2014.
The nearby Old Street area is a bustling Tech hub in London, with start up's and agencies creating left and right. Google's Campus London is nearby, offering seven floors of flexible work space, free high-speed internet and support to fuel the ideas of tech startups. A search of Angellist in London will pop up handfuls of jobs for young tech entrepreneurs.
Truly, this city is alive and well, and in particular the east end strikes me as a a spot that will produce some of the great innovations in retail, the arts, and technology in the near future, as they really are going full on as of today. I highly recommend a stop at the Shoreditch High Street Overground station, where you can alight and check out BoxPark, the TEA building across the street, and cultural center Richmix just a block away.
(2) Box Park : http://www.boxpark.co.uk/about/