Stratford E15 when first encountered by this Londonista in about 1985 already had a post-apocalyptic feel and Ralph McTell’s “have you seen the old man in the rundown market” echoed every footstep through piss-scented underpasses and past frightened shuttered shopfronts and the greasiest of spoons. Despite Newham's 'town centre plan' and various regeneration initatives, it's still not somewhere you'd want to spend an evening, but it does have shops you won't find at Canary Wharf.
Yesterday, at a cost of £1.45 billion (more than the GDP of the 25 poorest countries in the world) Europe’s largest shopping mall opened on its scruffy doorstep. PR for the Australian developer Westfield is handled by Yellow Door, run by Mary Portas, who recently opined that in order for ‘good’ retail to flourish, some high streets must be allowed to die.
Possibly Stratford’s town centre is already written off by the Olympic residuary planners and politicans, but it provides well co-located low-cost shopping to a massive swathe of less affluent East Londoners, which may not be replicated in the glitzy Westfield where there certainly isn’t a Poundland or an Oxfam.
What there is, for now at least, is an influx of visitors on the scale of an invasion, reflecting Stratford's diverse ethnic catchment area. They seem to be mostly pressing their noses against Westfield's glass. Gargantuan crowds choked the mall and the outdoor boulevards, some dodging the falling 5ft glass ceiling panel which almost felled Boris Johnson as he performed the opening ceremony, but relatively few headed back to the station with carrier bags.
A positive-spinning John Lewis partner surveying the empty acreage of his glass and china department, told us business was much brisker on the perfumery floor where the tills were alive with the sound of coinage, and average spend £300. We’re not sure who really is doing the business but between watchmeisters Tag Heuer, Hugo Boss, SamCam wannabes' fave handbag store Aspinal, femme fashionistas Fashion Rocks and boys’ zone DigDeep…we couldn’t count a total of a dozen customers at 4pm yesterday. Prada and Armani are hanging fire with postponed openings.
A fashion sales assistant in a smart chain confided she’d moved over from the W12 operation for the challenge of a new store launch but was keeping her options open back at the Bush if regular business didn’t match the opening promise.
We’d recommend Londonistas do the same: give it a month for the crowds to subside, and if you still fancy a mega-shop in what will then be airy and spacious avenues of retail gloss, pop over to what we’re now told to call E20. That’s inflation for you.