Westfield Stratford Opens To The Sound Of Smashing Glass

By Johnny Fox Last edited 79 months ago
Westfield Stratford Opens To The Sound Of Smashing Glass
The Corten steel bridge from Stratford station thronged with punters
The Corten steel bridge from Stratford station thronged with punters
The empty acreage of John Lewis's china department.
The empty acreage of John Lewis's china department.
The underpopulated Hugo Boss store.
The underpopulated Hugo Boss store.
People streaming away from Westfield about 6pm, but not many of them with carrier bags.
People streaming away from Westfield about 6pm, but not many of them with carrier bags.

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.

Last Updated 14 September 2011

Nicolas Chinardet

They may not have Poundland or Oxfam but I hear they have Greggs. How frightfully nice of them to "cater" for the working class!

In any case I find it bewildering that so many people decided they simply had to be there on the first day for what is, if the Bush version is anything to go by, nothing more original than a glorified highstreet of all the major brands. Or is it that those people are all unemployed (victims of the recession and other "benefit scroungers") and have nothing better to do?

How very typical too of this nation of shopkeepers that regeneration has to happen via the creation of more shops. There will come a time when there won't be enough people to spend money in all those new shops, particularly as they are just replicas of other already existing shops. What happened to USPs?

Nicolas Chinardet

Reflections on what I mentioned above in the Telegraph:

Westfield: If only shopping were an Olympic event . . .

Can the launch of Europe’s largest mall – part of the London 2012 site – buck
the trend in retailers’ fortunes?

Gilberdyke

Johnny, glitzy Westfield may not have an Oxfam but neither does the existing anything-but-glitzy Stratford. The nearest ones are about 3 miles away.  Come on Oxfam, those second-hand Primark clothes have to go somewhere...

JohnnyFox

@zefrog: Greggs, along with Mothercare, Boots and WH Smith, seem to be the only duplications from the existing Stratford Centre.

What's really disturbing is that according to Estates Gazette the new owners of the 'old' centre Catalyst Capital who bought it a year ago for about £90m have identified "significant opportunities to make returns on their investment via asset management" which is corporate gobspeak for raising shop rents to force out the most downmarket traders.

RD

To be honest, I don't think Westfield presents much competiton for the Oxfam or Poundshops of Stratford.  I can't imagine their customers dropping everything to run to Topshop, can you?  On the other hand, it will create thousands of jobs for local people which is a good thing, no?  Unlike Shepherd's Bush, Stratford was absolutely barren of all development with a population living on the breadline.  It's very easy for the middle classes to bash commercialism, whilst spooning in another mouthful of granola and organic yoghurt, but at the end of the day - sad as you might think it is - the glitzy new Primark, New Look and River Island at Stratford City will truly transform peoples' lives.

Gizmo

People should stop moaning about the death of high streets, accept that Stratford's "town centre" is now E20 not E15, and rejoice in their new roofed, polished and air-conditioned civic centre.