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Changing Spaces

Change is afoot at Elys. The much- loved Wimbledon department store is undergoing a huge transformation that aims to keep shoppers in the town centre rather than being lured to the West End.

We’re excited - its fashion offering is being boosted by top new brands, and there is a big beauty revamp among the plans. I caught up with David Hordle, MD of Morleys Stores, which has owned Elys since 1996, at San Lorenzo - fitting given that both are stalwarts in an ever-changing Wimbledon.

David talked me through some of the changes in store - its new brands include NARS, Hourglass, Belstaff, Coach and the much-coveted Michael Kors. Hill & Friends (founded by former Mulberry creative director Emma Hill) will also add a cool new line to the store. Shoes have moved to the first floor with over 30 brands - now including Ralph Lauren and Gabor among the favourites such as Kurt Geiger, Dune and Carvela. Posh Totty Designs is another great addition with its gorgeous personalised jewellery.

Caffe Nero has been overhauled too, and provides a great retreat for shoppers, along with the Elys restaurant on the third floor.

Some £3m has been invested, but, as David points out, it is as much about investing in its people as in the store offering – several generations of families are employed in the group – and well-trained, motivated staff are the face of the business.

Given the crazy-warm summer weather, we sat outside on the terrace of San Lorenzo, although the sleek air-conditioned interior looked equally appealing. The menu is predominantly Tuscan with influences from Piedmont, Lazio, and Veneto, and the restaurant sticks to traditional techniques. Everything is made with love on site, including its bread and ice creams.

We both went for the carpaccio di manzo to start – it is a simple dish and the quality of its ingredients are everything – this was one of the best I’ve ever had with melt-in-the-mouth beef, slivers of parmesan and a perfectly- judged dressing. For mains, I tried the linguine with lobster. Again, it was a classic – rich though, so devouring the lot of this generous portion was not to be.

San Lorenzo’s owner Ghigo Berni, who took over the family business in 1990, joined us for coffee. His parents, Lorenzo and Mara Berni, set up the original Osteria San Lorenzo in Knightsbridge, which became the haunt of celebrities such as Sophia Loren and Princess Diana. They opened their second restaurant in Wimbledon in 1969 and called it San Lorenzo Fuoriporta.

Given the longevity of both Elys and San Lorenzo in what are the fickle worlds of retail and hospitality, what do David and Ghigo believe to be the secret of success? Both agree that it is about generating loyalty, and you do that by looking after your customers. They add that the human connection is crucial. Come across as too corporate at your peril. Businesses need to keep their character and soul, agree Ghigo and David – something that both Elys and San Lorenzo have in spades.

Since Elys was founded back in 1876, it has continually evolved to meet the needs of its customers. We’re looking forward to the final result of the latest developments – all in time for our Christmas shopping – and a launch party is set to take place on November 7. Watch this space.

ElysSan Lorenzo Linguine with lobster