Piccadilly, Mayfair, Pall Mall; all offer some of the best of High Street shopping, but the really interesting stuff – the fabulous brands, the historic merchandisers – are often found in the arcades. Dating back to the early 19th century, they are glass-topped, tile-floored shopping emporia. They are little jewel boxes of high end products, where you can browse while protected from the weather and the rhubarb of the madding crowds.
Around the corner from Savile Row, or Piccadilly Circus (depending on which end of the Arcade you enter from) you’ll find one of the best: The Burlington Arcade. And when you’re there, you really are missing one of the great London experiences if you don’t see Romi Topi and have your shoes shined.
The English take their shoes seriously. A basic pair of Oxfords, or brogues, will cost anywhere from 300 pounds for an off-the-shelf pair, up to and beyond 4,000 pounds for something custom made.
Topi believes that regular polishing is the key to a long leather-shod life.
He offers a regular shine for 4 pounds, a deluxe for 6 pounds. Pay the extra two pounds; for that he’ll take out a tiny brush and clean the smallest crevices of your shoes.
He’s had his chair and stool set up in the Burlington Arcade for 6 years now. In many ways he represents the New Londoner. From Albania, he’s charming, entrepreneurial, and hard working. His shoe-polishing company has a stand in Fortnum and Mason, and at all the Hackett men’s clothing stores in London.
The company’s moto: “You can tell a man by his shoes.” The Shoe Shine Service also does a number of charity events around London: “Why have an event like every other, with canapes and champagne when the guests will really remember a great shoe shine!” The Service also makes en masse shine-ins at companies in London’s financial heart, The City. For a fixed price and a limited time, as many as employees as possible get a proper polish.
So when next you are mid-shopping spree in the busy centre of London, turn into the Burlington Arcade, take the load off for a moment or two, have a seat, and reflect in the shine of your shoes.