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Store’s ‘men’s nurseries’ offer a respite

A particularly thoughtful British department store has created a place where women can leave their men while they shop: a sort of play area for grown men NBC's Victoria Whall reports.
Men relax at the Marks and Spencer flagship store in Marble Arch, London. earlier this month.Chris Young / PA via AP file
/ Source: NBC News

The days when men trail after their wives and girlfriends during the holiday shopping season may be gone forever.

This year a particularly thoughtful British department store has created a place where women can leave their men while they shop: a sort of nursery for grown men.

Marks and Spencer, which has clothed Britons for decades, this year set up nurseries in six stores nationwide — just in time for the holiday rush.

The retailer has set up special “chill-out” areas where men can kick back in front of the television while their other halves scour the store for the perfect Christmas gifts. Marks and Spencer offers comfortable sofas, assorted candy, a selection of DVDs to choose from and a small scalextric, or small electric car-racing track, for men to play with.

I love it’
At its flagship store at London’s Marble Arch the nursery is on the second floor with the men’s clothes. Tucked away next to rows of striped shirts and across from the slippers, soccer highlights play on the television screen and the scalextric glitters in the light.

The idea gets the thumbs up from a passing couple visiting London from Hong Kong. “I love it,” says the husband. “I always like sitting down and having a rest while she’s shopping.”

His wife agrees. “I think it’s good because then I can leave him while I wander around and he’s not tapping his feet, bored. But he’s a good shopper anyway,” she says. “But sometimes I want to look at more things than he does so it’s good if he can come and watch something he likes, like football.”

As the afternoon proceeds, passing men stop to watch the soccer for a few moments but stop short of stopping and sitting down. The men on the second floor are taking their shopping seriously this week. Rather than vegging in front of the television, they seem to be, well, shopping.

An irresistible attraction
Then, from out of the blue, a young man flops onto a sofa with relief. Ashley Sibu, 17, is shopping with his mother and sister. He‘s happy to have found somewhere to sit.

“If you’re with someone who’s shopping and you’re not shopping, it’s great because you don’t have to just stand around being inactive and getting bored. It’s something to do rather than standing around. So it’s a good thing they’ve got it here,” he says. Sibu adds that he only likes shopping if it’s for him; otherwise he finds it boring.

Not long afterward a French family walks past the nursery. Their little boy looks longingly at the soccer on television but walks on past. A few minutes later the child returns with his father and they sit down to watch the action.

A few hours later an elderly gentleman takes a seat on one of the sofas. Alan Webster asked where he could go to sit down as soon as he and his wife came through the doors. He’s a retired power station manager from Derby in the north of England and he’s very pleased to have found the nursery. He is not particularly into the soccer that’s playing but is cheered to hear that there is also a DVD of legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python.

Webster points out that the nursery is too small. Two little girls have curled up on the sofas and are napping under the watchful eye of their grandmother and two women are sitting reading. He says, “It’s not big enough and it ought to be for men only!”

Tired shoppers
Although the nursery is overcrowded Webster concedes that it is worth having. “It is a good idea because usually there are just one or two chairs dotted around the store, which are not easy to find. This is a definite area for waiting,” he says.

Monty Python is put on at Webster’s request and the tired shoppers watch on.

When some seats open up a gaggle of middle-aged women pounce on them. They are having a rest while one of their number shops a bit more. What with them and the girls, the men’s nursery has been well and truly invaded.

By the time Chris Adams, an events organizer from north London finds his way to the nursery there are no spare seats on the sofas, but he is appreciative of the area anyway. He’s stopped by Marks and Spencer with his aunt, who has a few things to pick up.

“I think it’s an excellent idea — somewhere to watch TV while the women go shopping. It’s nice to be able to sit and watch TV rather than be dragged around the shop. It makes a nice change,” he says.

Marks and Spencer might have got a bit more than it bargained for when it set up the nursery, as it seems everyone likes to take a break from their holiday shopping. But as long as fights don’t break out over seating space, Marks and Spencer can comfort itself that its idea was a hit with British shoppers this Christmas.