Meet the owner of the Camden Passage shop window where nothing is for sale
- Credit: Lilian Fawcett
Islington’s Camden Passage is known for its eclectic antique shops and independent businesses – but number 43 is something unique.
Tucked between a Chipotle restaurant and a jewellery shop, is a window packed with vintage and antique knick-knacks: war-time posters, Punch and Judy dolls, bobble heads of a sumo wrestler and a surfer.
But unlike the street’s other windows, nothing on display is for sale. This is instead the collection of retired businessman and journalist Bob Borzello who has been gathering odds and ends for decades.
“I don’t have ‘collections’. I accumulate things," the 84-year-old told the Gazette.
“The thing is, if you bought ten things a year for 50 years, that's 500 things, right? Well, I bought a hundred things a year for 50 years. So it’s a lot of stuff. My basement is stuffed.”
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The property was once home to the "UK’s first poster shop", Hang Up, which Bob opened in 1967 after moving to London from Chicago. He tells me about it at a café on Camden Passage, as he regularly waves hello to passers-by.
Hang Up started out selling posters from the Post Office, London Transport and the National Theatre.
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“Then we discovered that although people like those, they didn’t buy enough. So then we started ones that were more popular with students,” Bob said.
The business produced psychedelic and political posters of figures like Bob Dylan, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara – a best seller.
In the late 70s the business was reinvented as Camden Graphics, which sold greeting cards, calendars and other printed products to major retailers through the 80s.
He ran the operation with his long-time friend Peter.
“I always said I had the looks, he had the brains,” Bob says. “So I would come up with the ideas, he would make them real.”
All the while, Bob was accumulating vintage and antique objects. A father of two who now has five grandchildren, he lived in the flat above the shop with his family for years – redecorating it in art deco style.
The flat is now unoccupied, but Bob still owns the property and has breakfast in Camden Passage every morning.
He regularly switches up what’s on display in the window of number 43, adding objects from his collection of thousands of items. He says people regularly visit the window.
Sometimes he creates new items for display – the window is a creative outlet, Bob says.
One of his latest additions is a poster showing two cats, each with a plate: one has a mouse, the other a carrot. It reads: "Stop this vegan nonsense!"
“I started a society for the prevention of cruelty to fruits and vegetables. You can join, it’s free,” he said. “If I get crazy ideas, I do them.”
Bob has drawn criticism for his “crazy ideas” in the past. In 2019, when he created a poster depicting Adolf Hitler with an orange slice in place of a moustache.
"A reminder to smug veggies: Adolf was a vegetarian," it read. He refused to take it down despite upsetting some locals.
But he’s no stranger to controversy. Before moving to London in 1966, Bob worked as editor for two tabloid papers – the National Insider and the Heretic – in his hometown of Chicago.
For the Heretic, a monthly, Bob would “get together people with generally unpopular ideas, or generally people who stuck to their guns about an idea”.
“It was a balance," he said. "So you had a debate: the racist against the non-racist, the atheist against the religious person.”
Bob acknowledges times have changed but although he’s now retired, he said he gives a yearly talk to students on racism in journalism.
He has some “racist things” in his collection, like once-popular books and children’s toys that would not now be deemed acceptable, although he doesn’t put them on display.
“I keep them because nowadays no one wants to show that, because they think that’s horrible,” he said. “But I keep them so one day people will know what it was like.”