My love affair with Foyles at Charing Cross Road has been a constant over the years. Standing strong, proud, a little bit eccentric but always familiar and inviting - it's been a loyal friend.
So, when news came that my friend would be regenerating into a shiny new version just a tiny bit further down the road, I think maybe I finally understood what all those die-hard Dr Who fans are crying about every time somebody new is about to arrive in the TARDIS. It's ridiculously exciting and scary in almost equal measure. What if it isn't as good? What if it loses its charm? What if there's no atmosphere? What if just feels...wrong?
In recent months I've followed the Foyles blog and Twitter feed, hoovering up nuggets of information about what to expect from the new flagship store. From these there were no certainties except for one major piece of information: there would be trees. As I understood it, these trees would be placed in the middle of the shop, rising up through all of the floors - how amazing!
The new shop opened in June this year and I finally got to visit last week.
My Maiden Visit
It was with some trepidation that I left the tube with long-suffering Richard and we made our way to Charing Cross Road. As we approached the old building, it was almost a shock to see the red, melancholic Foyles signage still in situ, but with a nod of due respect we carried on walking to number 107 and stepped into a brave new world. For a few seconds I stopped, inhaled my surroundings and said the first two things that came to mind:
"Where are the trees?"
Richard (who was already checking to see which floor the cafe was on) looked at me quizzically. This is not in itself unusual when I've just asked something of great importance.
"What trees?" He asked, having ascertained that the cafe was on the fifth floor and that there were at least six types of cake to choose from.
"They said there would be an atrium. Where is it?"
"You're standing in it. Look up - you can see all the floors."
I think the penny dropped for both of us in exactly the same moment.
"They said ATRIUM Claire, not ARBORETUM!"
"I know!" I retorted (totally lying) "Are we going to find the Cafe or what?"
we he laughed.
And the Verdict?
Including time out for exceedingly good coffee and cake, I spent four hours wandering around, getting to know my new old friend.
Trees or no trees, the new Foyles is a thing of great beauty. It is sleek, spacious and cool in every sense of the word. With its smooth lines and light, airy layout (there's an atrium you know), the place oozes style and loveliness.
I know what you're thinking - how can it still be Foyles with all this talk of smooth lines and sophistication? I thought the same. I worried about the same. To me, Foyles has always been about charm and warmth and squidginess - a bit ripped at the seams and slightly jumbled but you always knew where you were and it just felt right.
But here's the thing. Somehow, against all the odds, they've managed to take the very essence of the old Foyles and transplant it into a new, shiny version. They might not have trees but that doesn't matter because they've got something much, much better. They've got an unmistakably authentic Foyles heartbeat - and it's pumping magic around every floor at 107 Charing Cross Road.