For those few of you who haven’t and might wish to, a visit to Gray’s Antiques Centre, just off Oxford Street and adjacent to the Bond Street Tube Station, has become much, much harder to do. With building works at the tube station and the construction of a new luxury shopping complex adjacent, hoardings will cover Gray’s distinctive Victorian terracotta, flatiron shaped façade for three years. Dependent for a large degree upon the Oxford Street shopping traffic, occlusion of Gray’s cannot have anything but a damaging impact on the dealers inside. Besides the stand for our good friend and trade stalwart Elliot Lee all the 200 or so dealers offer silver, items of virtue, gems, and antiquities of a quality one would expect from a Bond Street dealer.
While some effort has been made by the management of the tube to install signage to direct punters inside Gray’s- now that the main entrance is closed the result of the building works- those efforts have been ineffective and, it’s reported, the trade inside has already suffered.
Unfortunate, but not surprising, and all this seems too representative of how little concern is given the trade these days. In this time of too big to fail, the trade in art and antiques, composed as it is- and as it always has been- of independent business people, whose responsibilities for acquiring quality stock, restoring it, presenting it properly, and maintaining a base of expertise in order to interface knowledgably with the collector public generally reside in one or two individuals- generally the eponymous gallery owner- necessarily limits the size of the business to a small one. Consequently, it always seems that the dealers, despite a certain amount of organization through trade associations are always given short shrift by local authorities and elected officials. I would be surprised to find, say, Selfridge’s just across Oxford Street bedeviled by offsite building works in the same way Gray’s is.
The irony is that, although I like Selfridge’s, it is a department store and hardly unique, while Gray’s, and indeed the entire trade in London, represents something of longstanding importance, as one of the handful of surviving venues in one of the world’s primary centres for the trade in art and antiques. Given the times, one would presume that some effort would be made to husband a resource that, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Already the trade in the West End is rapidly disappearing, with Mallett’s selling their Bond Street leasehold, and dealers like Stair, Pelham Galleries, and M. Turpin, now only of blessed memory.