It’s a tough time to open a megamall and the economic indicators are stacked against success, so has Westfield Stratford got what it takes?
Odd that the last two shopping centres of scale to grab headlines in the UK have both stemmed from Australian developer Westfield and that in both instances their arrival has coincided with a distinct downturn in the economy. The last big shopping centre to see the light of day was Westfield London that welcomed shoppers towards the end of a year that saw the Lehman failure and the associated banking crisis.
Almost three years on, it looks as if retail history is on the verge of repeating itself with the opening of another Westfield tomorrow and yes, there does seem to be a bout of that sporadic nervousness that affects markets, except that this time entire countries’ economies are at risk.
What is certain however is that the great and good, not to mention that increasingly uncommon breed the shopper, will all be heading out on one of the many available forms of public transport to check this one out. The difference this time is that while there may be financial difficulties as a backdrop, tomorrow is only a staging post for Westfield in Stratford. Many retailers have given this centre their best shot, with new formats and one-off flagships that will repay the efforts of those who make the journey.
But a deal less than a year from now there will be a second bite of the opening cherry as the Olympics get under way in the adjacent stadium. The big test therefore is not now, quite irrespective of the macroeconomic situation, but what happens at about this time next year when the Games will be a fast fading memory?
On the basis of a few visits as this was under construction and attendance at tomorrow’s grand unveiling, this does look as if it has the potential to confound the doomsayers for whom deepest East London is a retail bridge too far. Westfield Stratford has some of the better looking retail that’s out there currently and while there may still be a few units to open, this is little different from the opening saga at Westfield London. It’s odds on that this will be a slow burner initially, but Westfield has a habit of making these things work and you can bet your bottom Aussie dollar that this scheme will be no different. Retail novelty is a mite thin on the ground currently, so it really is good to see something being done.