A translated excerpt of the article on Grays of Westminster that appeared in the Danish photographic magazine Zoom, Denmark’s Professional Photo magazine, number 1, 2010
Grays of Westminster in London is so unique as a shop that it is well worth a visit.
Few European cities attract the Danes like London, either as a holiday or a shopping destination. Experiences merge seamlessly with one another in London. Museums, theatres, cinemas, markets with antiques – some real, some not so real…..
Shopping is an experience whether you visit Fortnum & Mason, Harrods or any of the many renowned department stores.
Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, Berry Bros and Rudd, the cigar dealers Robert Lewis & James J. Fox and the many shirt makers in Jermyn Street all attract the cognoscenti.
All this can be found in the relatively small area of London called Westminster. Photographers – at any event Nikon users – should also make their way to Pimlico and Grays of Westminster, only a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.
From the outside, Grays could be mistaken for any of the other traditional shops in Westminster with one window for display and a dark blue façade with hanging baskets around the door.
No neon or brash signage. The name is discreetly painted over the window and inscribed on a polished brass plate. In a previous life, the premises was a barber’s saloon.
Like a Club for Gentlemen
Inside around 100 square metres is divided between two floors and it’s amazing to think that this small shop sends Nikon equipment all over the world.
The British tradition is inescapable. A pair of mahogany leather-topped desks, where you expect to find the staff writing in double-entry accounting books with their Mont Blanc or Parker fountain pens. Mahogany glass cabinets line the walls.
It is the contents of these cabinets which will exhilarate every Nikon user and, indeed, any other photographic enthusiast. The cabinets bulge with the very latest from Nikon. Cameras, lenses and every known accessory to tug at your wallet. When you have had your fill on this floor, you can venture downstairs where you will find a showcase and more glass cabinets. There are very few places where you will find a selection of second hand equipment to match what you see here.
You get goose pimples when you see a Nikon F just like the one you once exchanged for an F2. Everything oozes English tradition and when you walk through the narrow rooms you get a feeling of entering a gentlemen’s club. This is also the way in which you are treated when you enter as a customer. Whether you are there to buy a D3s body, a manual for an older camera or something for a few pounds, you are treated as though the world revolves around you for that moment.
The Idea Nobody Believed In
Although the shop feels like something from another century, it actually originated in 1985 when a young man decided to try an unusual business idea. There was a lot of head shaking particularly when the one-make (Nikon) idea was proposed.
Gray Levett was born soon after the Second World War and into a rather bleak world. The 60s and 70s turned this world upside down. Gray Levett, the son of a Royal Air Force Officer, had tired of discipline and order and, in his youth, worked in the developing fashion industry in London’s Carnaby Street. It was here that he and his colleagues were often used as photographic models though he would have preferred to be on the other side of the camera. It was his combination of artistic temperament and technical skill, together with idealism and good business sense, which were the foundations of the institution which is Grays of Westminster.
Service Is All
In no time, the business idea was flourishing because, in addition to a quality product, the service to every customer is first class. If, on rare occasions, an item is not available every effort will be made to source it.
On one occasion, a customer from the north of England ordered a camera for an imminent trip abroad. The camera was not in stock and that day’s delivery from Nikon was delayed. To avoid disappointment a member of staff took the first train north and delivered the camera in person. The round trip took 8 hours but the Grays of Westminster slogan, “the kind of service of which legends are made”, was fully vindicated.
Among the clientele you find famous names such as film director Stanley Kubrick, David Suchet (television’s Hercule Poirot), The Duchess of York and many more.
In recognition of the international nature of the clientele, Grays of Westminster has established the Nikon Owner subscription service which publishes a quarterly photographic magazine with images, articles and workshops.
To visit this very special camera shop in Pimlico is a unique experience in the world of photographic retailing and is enhanced by the feeling that you are a valued guest, whether you make a purchase or not.
If you are a Nikon user and spending a couple of days in London, you must take the tube to Pimlico or Victoria and visit Grays of Westminster at 40 Churton Street. Should you use another camera make, visit anyway – just for the experience.