Situated opposite the Royal Academy for nearly 300 years, this posh hamper goods institution—selling everything from wines and spirits to pâté to splendid sweets—has a lot to teach the retailing world.
Let’s begin in 1705, when co-founder Hugh Mason had a small shop in St. James’s Market and a spare room in his house. Enter William Fortnum from Oxford to London, along with his family of respected builders in the wake of the Great Fire of London. William was employed as footman in Queen Anne’s household—and the room at Mr Mason’s house.
The Royal Family’s insistence on having new candles every night meant a lot of half-used wax for an enterprising footman to sell at a profit—so while the Queen’s wages paid the rent, William’s enlightened sideline melted down into enough collateral to start a respectable business that has flourished into a near-empire three centuries later. The rest, as they say, is grocery.