The Centre of Town
The centre of Oxford, if you ignore the fact that every other building is ancient, beautiful and part of the University, is much like that of any other small city. The two malls (The Clarendon Centre and the Westgate Centre), Cornmarket and Queen Street offer the usual clothing, jewellery, and electrical goods chains, pharmacies and coffee shops. However, there are still jewels in our crown. The High Street (known as The High by some) specialises in high-end boutiques and antiques shops. The Victorian labyrinth that is the Covered Market bristles with great food stalls, traditional grocers and butchers (mind out for the whole boar, rabbits and pheasants hanging up), cobblers, jewellers and a great greasy spoon. Broad Street is home to the many faces of the marvellous Blackwell’s - worth a pilgrimage for any book-lover - plus the first ever Oxfam shop, places to buy art supplies and some specialist clothing shops (and, if you look up, an Anthony Gormley). And where The Broad meets Cornmarket you’ll find the cavernous wonder which is Boswell & Co, Oxford’s oldest, family-run independent department store.
Head away from the very centre and you’ll find that the different areas of Oxford have very particular characters; each offers a unique shopping experience. For example, if I should wish to buy exclusive babywear or charity shop couture then I could do just that in Summertown. For artisan pottery or a slim volume of Ginsberg it would be Jericho. If I wanted fresh tamarinds or organic fairtrade clothing my choice would be East Oxford. Here is a brief guide to each area and the (mostly) indie retailers which make them what they are (and here’s a map of Oxford in case you need one):
Everyone knows that the Cowley Road is a great place to head to in the evening, but if you don’t live in the area you may never discover its daytime delights. From one end to the other are exciting small businesses, infused with the fantastic multi-cultural energy East Oxford is known for.
Cowley Road is brilliant if you’re looking for things to wear but you don’t fancy looking like everyone else. Starting at The Plain, you'll first encounter The Ballroom, with its racks and racks of ballgowns, formal wear, vintage clothes and costumes, and baskets of silk scarves spilling onto the street. Head a little way up (past Annie Sloan's flagship paint store) and you'll find Eau de Vie, which has a small but exclusive range of yoga gear and organic cosmetics in their serene reception. For old-school hippies, the Bombay Emporium offers big woolly hoodies in rainbow colours, steeped in Nag Champa incense. More fashion-conscious alternative types can walk a little further along to Indigo, which stocks stylish organic and fairtrade clothing by companies such as People Tree and Braintree, and a range of homeware, toys and jewellery. If you carry on further still (after maybe stopping at Truck Store to buy a record and have a cup of coffee, or perhaps lingering at the Ultimate Picture Palace to check out what films are showing, or maybe even nipping back to Inky Fingers for a graphic novel) then you'll encounter the jumble-sale chic of Reign, vintage store extraordinaire. Should you still have energy after that, you can explore the numerous charity shops on offer.
The Cowley Road is also home to some excellent bicycle shops and repairers. For mends, Daily Info's absolute and long-standing favourite is Cycloanalysts, who are always friendly, efficient and good value.
Although one could find a different fantastic restaurant for every night of the week in East Oxford, you might also fancy buying ingredients to cook your own dinner. For wholefoods, vegetarian, vegan and gluten free supplies and a range of healthy chocolate bars visit Uhuru. For spices and exotic fruit and veg head to Tahmid Stores or Eastern and Continental Store. You’ll find a whole host of specialist delis too: Greek (Meli), Italian (Il Principe), Lebanese (Green Village Oxford), Moroccan (Maroc Deli) and Polish (either of the two Polski Sklep and the Baltic Food deli). For excellent quality meat head all the way up to Alder's the butcher - a lovely, friendly shop and not expensive. And if you’re about on a Saturday morning you’ll find the brilliant farmer's market in the East Oxford Primary School, full of local, sustainable and organic veg, meat and bread.
If you're looking for deep nourishment for body and soul then try a trip to Magdalen Road. As well as a duo of wonderful eateries (The Magic Café and Oxfork) there is also a brilliant health-food-shop-cum-yoga-studio, Wild Honey, which packs an astonishingly wide range of organic and natural products onto its shelves. Furthermore, if you visit on a Thursday afternoon you'll find the Cultivate Veg Van parked outside, which will cater for all your local, sustainable and organic vegetable needs.
Walton Street in Jericho is probably the hippest place in Oxford and is home to a handful of really interesting shops in amongst the trendy bars and pubs. The Albion Beatnik bookshop is exactly what you’d hope it would be from the name, right down to the regular jazz and poetry gigs. The Oxford Ceramics Gallery and Illyria Pottery (with resident cat) offer two very different kinds of equally beautiful ceramics. Cowboy Mod is a crazy mix of hairdressing salon, photography gallery and flea market. And Gluttons deli do really nice falafel.
At the town end of Walton Street you’ll also find Little Clarendon Street, where you can get super hip and super smart threads, at Uncle Sam's and Clements and Church respectively. This street also boasts two of my personal Oxford food favourites: Demijohn, with its jewel-like liqueurs, and The Natural Bread Company, which is like a hug in café form and, of course, sells really tasty artisan bread.
Just a little north of the city centre, off the Banbury Road, is a glorious little street called North Parade, packed with great restaurants, pubs and shops, and slightly reminiscent of rural France, with its hanging baskets of geraniums and tasteful bright colours. Here you can find art and crafts in Taurus Gallery, a wonderful woolly array in the Oxford Yarn Store, beautifully tailored indie womenswear brands behind the extravagantly windowed exterior of Barley Oxford, and the best of local Oxford food and drink in 2 North Parade.
Carry on up the Banbury Road and after a mile or so you’ll reach Summertown’s shops. This is where you’ll find a few of the more exclusive chain stores (Oliver Bonas, Farrow and Ball, Jojo Maman Bébé) and some of the most expensive but best-stocked charity shops in England. It’s also a great place to head to if you’re hungry: a branch of Taylors Deli, the spectacular patisserie Gatineau, and Modern Baker, the latest of Oxford’s artisan bread makers, all await you with sweet treats and delicious smells.
Coffee and cake, anyone?
The perfect morning's retail therapy absolutely has to include a cup of coffee, and you'll almost certainly want to go for lunch afterwards, so here's our guide to eating and drinking in Oxford.
Where can I find...?
If you have in mind what you’d like to buy but you’re not sure where to get it, try the list below:
- Clothes (mainstream)
- Clothes (vintage/charity)
- Cosmetics / Toiletries
- Vintage, Charity & Fairtrade Shops
- Arts & Crafts (gifts and supplies)
- Party Shops
- Dry Cleaners / Laundrettes
Abandoned Shopping Trolleys
You can report abandoned Tesco trolleys by phone (0800 505555, Mon - Fri 9am - 6pm) or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're emailing, the subject line should read: "Abandoned trolleys near Cowley Road store" (or whichever store is nearest); and the text should include the trolley's location and your name and address. The details will then be forwarded to the manager of the relevant store and hopefully the trolley(s) will be retrieved within 72 hours. If they're still there by then, of course.