30 June 2012

Clip Art

Kiosks engender a fundamental ad hocness.  They start and end the day collapsed into neat boxes and explode into action and into business.  They are remade each morning; the displays are refashioned each day.

Shopkeepers use a number of strategies to reconfigure their kiosks quickly and employ a number of devices to do the job.  Here, I want to draw attention to the extraordinary utility and flexibility of clips and clamps.

Clamps are used to hold the kiosk together quite literally, and also to attach signs, secure awnings, keep things from blowing away, and create mounts for the display of goods.  Beyond their clamping function, the holes at the clamp ends, and their rigid V-shape, allow them to hang things and be hung themselves.

Clamps are central to keeping kiosks but are surprisingly invisible parts of the display, especially considering their industrial bulkiness and their surface roughness.  How many clamps can you identify below?

At a micro scale, I love how these bull clips are used to fasten the Hot Soup sign while also bracing two packages of Polo mints.  Doing so not only provides the perfect cradle for the cylinders, but also prevents the packs of gum behind from slipping forward.  I also appreciate how only two clips are positioned outside the sign to ensure maximum visibility. 

Here, I spotted twelve.

24 June 2012

Fruits of Labour

When fruit and vegetables are sold in ad hoc shops, they are most often found in the forecourt -- the space out front between the threshold and the property line.  In my neighbourhood, fruit is also sold at a number of kiosks located on the pavement by entrances to the Tube.  While not entirely ubiquitous, most shopkeepers incorporate astro turf in these displays.

Including sheets of artificial grass with fruit is tradition, I was told again and again.  It makes the fruit pop and helps craft a more natural display.  The green is eye-catching; it looks nice.  I was also told that 20 years ago, shopkeeping fashion dictated that fruit was displayed in bushel boxes.  These boxes made fruit look just carried from the fields, whereas the turf makes it look just picked. 

Although they couldn't bear a bushel, cardboard fruit boxes are often used on the grassy green surfaces to order the fruit and veg.  Another very popular strategy is the use of clear plastic mixing bowls.  Stacked and grouped with colours aligned in horizonal or vertical bands the containing fruit is often sold by the bowlful and at a discount.  "Any bowl, one pound!"  Sometimes more.

Display strategies are not merely aesthetic.  The bowls help sell fruit at a volume and create a logic for display.  Still, some vendors oppose the mixing bowls and understand that the fruit sold therein is bought from other vendors very near, or past, its expiration.  As such, some believe consumers may associate the fruit with poor quality.  I have had excellent bananas from bowls and from boxes; I reserve my judgement.  Though I must say, if you're planning guacamole, a mixing bowl of avocados may be the best bet. 

As well as softening the display and providing a contrasting colour to the fruit, astro turf also behaves like a soft curtain, hiding boxes, fruit, and crates below.

While it's easy to dismiss turf as "fake" grass, it has unexpectedly sensual qualities.  The ribbons of plastic are surprisingly soft to the touch and feel kind of, well, grassy.  It's hard not to touch them when perusing the produce.  The way the light and wind hit the sheets of turf, and "blades" of grass, also reveals wonderfully rich tones of green.  It can end up seeming quite luxurious. 

The astro turf also shows time and practice.  It wears along creases and in lines, exposing the black weave behind and eventually creating pin-striped skirts for display tables.

At a meeting of urban natures, juxtaposition shows that perhaps the turf is more CMYK pigment green than grass green.  The grass is always greener...?

20 June 2012


Central Perks' replaced their deli case!  The bottom image is from an earlier post.

While I did like the previous mashup and loved seeing such bold material evidence of the layers of shopkeeping, I must agree with the shopkeepers: these cases are way more effective at displaying mobile phone accessories. In case you were wondering, there are no plans to change the name.

17 June 2012


A host of corporate producers compete with each other, wooing corner shopkeepers with product and cash for the strategic shop-front placement of their branded material.  London has a long history of newspapers creating branded signage for corner shops; earlier I posted about the Lebara and Lyca campaigns for corner shop frontage.

Official Olympic sponsorship has made Cadbury particularly active in this regard, especially in the more touristy parts of my neighbourhood.  Around the British Museum, a Cadburyfication is in effect!

As well as adhering stickers along the rims of windows, hanging branded bunting, and developing new interior displays, the reps create Cadbury-branded coordinated signage for the individual shops.  Through the process, a number of options are presented to the shopkeepers for consideration.  Although these particular arrangements are designed to last through the Olympics, these relationships are long-standing and will continue after the Games. 

The economic challenges faced by many independent businesses – especially in times of economic crunch – make these arrangements particularly attractive.  And who would turn down free chocolate?!

11 June 2012

Displays of Jubilation

Over the last month, one object was particularly visible at those ad hoc shops selling souvenirs.

The Union Jack flag featuring a cameo of the Queen (sporting a sunny yellow ensemble) was seen all over London through the Jubilee celebrations… second only, perhaps, to the visibility of unadulterated Union Jacks.  The way it was flown at shops and kiosks often made it seem more like a shop-front adornment than a product for sale.  In this way, the shops stood as expressions of neighbourhood celebration.  The flag also became part of an elaborate stage for the display of other things.

Another Jubilee object was particularly prominent along Tottenham Court Road.  At the three kiosks selling handbags, luggage, and souvenirs, paper Elizabeth II masks were affixed to the retractable handles of rolling suitcases.  I love how the masks seem to come alive through the angles of their placement – the little tilts of the head and position of the elastic – and how the suitcases themselves become regal – but comically dumpy – bodies for the heads above.

Although I thought these clever displays may be emulating each other, it seems these three kiosks share the same managers.  This presents an interesting set of questions about local practice, curation, and ad hoc-ness; in any case, their displays do make me smile.

08 June 2012

Revived and Repurposed

Tottenham Court Road wasn't originally included in my study area, but I shuffled my boundary westwards to capture its kiosks.  Between Euston Road and Oxford Street, eleven kiosks offer a bounty of products and services, including: flowers, shoe shines, newspapers and magazines, convenience foods, fruit, souvenirs, and suitcases.

While I don't like to pick favourites, I do particularly like the repurposing of "Central Perks'".

This kiosk was once a sandwich and coffee shop -- as seen on flickr -- but has since been revived as a mobile phone unlocking and repair centre.

The shop keepers seem quite proud of their transfiguration and were delighted to have the kiosk photographed.  The name of the shop takes on a whole new meaning as a mobile repair shop -- speaking less to sitcoms and coffee, perhaps, and more to the convenience and advantages of having ad hoc shops and services in central London.  The refrigerated deli display case has accommodated a completely different function too, as the site of an array of dazzling iPhone covers.

01 June 2012

Stack in the Box

In front of corner shops, the space between the thresholds and the property line is often furnished with a number of things.  These may include various types of fruit displays, Wall’s signs, lotto displays and signage, newspaper racks, flowers, sandwich boards, and postcard racks, among others. 

While most of these things are moved inside at night, at many corner shops, news agents and kiosks, one large box remains outside.

In my neighbourhood, phone card advertisements are often affixed to these boxes.  Alternatively, they are fashioned with metal and plastic frames used to display current magazine covers.  In either case, they show the layering of stickers, paint, practice, wear and tear.

Their mystery was solved at the news agent on Euston Road.  The keeper explained that his large blue metal box is used for early morning newspaper deliveries and as a place to deposit old papers and magazines. 

Then he let me see inside.