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By Harry Preston
One of the world's most famous stores, Harrods has built its reputation on its Latin motto: "Omnia, omnibus, ubique" ("Everything, for everyone, everywhere") - Noel Coward was once given an alligator for Christmas, bought from Harrods' pet department.
Far more than a shop, it is an experience. Spend enough time - and money here - and you can organise almost all your life. From designing and fixing up your home (whether you're thinking Louis XIV opulence or Scandinavian minimalism), to scheduling your eyebrow-shaping session and planning the evening's dinner menu - everything can be done under one roof.
It has come a long way from the Stepney grocery store that specialised in tea and was set up by Charles Harrod in 1834. He used his intuition and moved to a small shop on the present site in 1849, feeling that the planned Great Exhibition of 1851 would be good for business.
Today the store covers more than 9.2ha (23 acres), with 330 departments and 5,000 staff. It has counted Oscar Wilde, Sigmund Freud and many members of the British Royal Family among its customers.
The terracotta palace on Brompton Road dates from 1901 and was designed by the architect of Claridge's hotel, C W Stephens. For many, the first-floor food halls are the highlight, as much for W J Neatley's tiled ceilings with hunting scenes above the fish, meat and poultry counters, as for the produce beneath.
In 1985 the Egyptian businessman Mohamed al-Fayed bought Harrods for £615 million. His renovations included installing a £20 million "Egyptian Escalator", designed with experts from the British Museum. Check at an information point when you go in on the day's programme. As well as catching a high-profile book signing, you may find opera singers performing arias on the moving stairway.
Try to have tea under the original art nouveau skylight in Harrods' flagship Georgian restaurant which offers a buffet, carvery and an a la carte menu (you will almost certainly need to book ahead for this), and pass by at night when the exterior is ablaze with 12,000 lightbulbs.
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