© Central Group / Photography: DOF Sky|Ground

The Central Group is one of the big success stories in Thailand, and specifically in the country’s retail and hospitality landscape. The family-run conglomerate was founded in 1947 by Tiang Chirathivat, a first-generation émigré from the island of Hainan in Southern China, and his son Samrit, and although it has since successfully diversified its operations into other sectors, it’s best known for its retail activities. On home turf, the company manages the omnipresent Central department store chain, and abroad, it has a number of garnered high-end retail footholds, including a string of La Rinascente department stores in Italy, Copenhagen‘s Illum and the Oberpollinger department store in Munich. Interestingly, for its latest retail expansion, Central Group has delved into its storied past to revamp a 1950s property situated smack in the middle of Bangkok, and turned it into a modern-day shopping destination for savvy young urbanites.

The building itself represents an important stepping stone in the company’s history, being the location of its very first general store, and let’s not forget that in the majority of countries across Asia, honouring one’s ancestors and past is second nature. Situated on Thanon Charoen Krung, a bustling artery in the Bangrak area of town, the newly opened and aptly named Central The Original Store not only pays homage to the company’s past, but also bridges the past and the present by offering contemporary lifestyle goods in a historic setting. Central Group tapped Antwerp-based architect Vincent Van Duysen to breathe new life into the five-storey structure, and if you ask us, it’s a job well done. Featuring a façade clad in traditional, hand-crafted terracotta tiles from Lampang province in the north of the country which honours the building’s architectural legacy, the interior however, sees a series of distinct contemporary yet compatible settings.

A large street-side window hints Bangkok‘s very first window display in the 1950s while allowing peeks of the store’s ground floor setting. Upon entering, shoppers first find themselves in an elegant entryway with terrazzo flooring and high concrete ceilings punctuated by wooden beams. Bespoke iron vitrines echo traditional lanterns used by the founders to walk into the late hours, brimming with vintage imported books and magazines from the archive, as well as an abundance of trophy souvenirs. A new branch of Siwilai Café, a hugely popular destination for young city dwellers and also owned by Central Group, co-anchors the ground floor space, replete with a tranquil courtyard and lush vegetation.

Mind you, the café boasts a semi-detached extension of sorts, and it comes in the form of a state-of-the-art music bar designed by Tokyo-based studio Tripster. Called Siwilai Sound Club, it’s situated across the courtyard and is the second outpost in the city, occupying two floors of a converted Chinese shop house, hosting not only a rotating programme of live gigs in the music room, but also boasting a vinyl listening bar with a selection of over 1,000 LPs and singles. But let’s go back to Central The Original Store, shall we? A sculpted staircase, bathed by daylight, leads to the Kolophon Retail Library, a venue with a pay-per-use membership.

The shelves are laden with books covering all aspects of the retail business, such as management, law, marketing, public relations, visual merchandising, store design and architecture, in addition to benefits such as educational programmes, promotions, and activities. The third and fourth floors are hybrids between exhibition and event spaces where a large movable display case acts as a divider reiterating Central Group‘s innovative character and versatility. The rooftop, clad in black metal, is home to Aksorn, a 40-seat restaurant helmed by Australian chef David Thompson. The setting here is also designed by the aforementioned Japanese design studio, and features stylish settings and sweeping views of the Thai capital. As the original store carried imported books and magazines, the new restaurant offers delectable nostalgia using volumes of recipes from Thompson’s own collection of cookbooks published from the 1950s to the present by way of a rotating menu.

Central The Original Store
1266 Thanon Charoen Krung (Bangrak)
Bangkok 10500
Telephone: +66 2 2670412
Tue-Sun 10am-6pm (store + café)
Tue-Sun 6pm-10pm (restaurant)
Tue-Sun 6pm-1am (music bar)

© Central Group / Photography: DOF Sky|Ground