LONDON, United Kingdom – I didn’t want to like the new $2.7 billion Westfield mall in London. I really didn’t.
For one thing, I’m American. I’ve done my fair share of time in malls. For another, this mall happens to be pretty much in my backyard in London’s Shepherd’s Bush and I had been indoctrinated for months before the opening that it would be a tragedy for local residents. And then there’s the name. The Australian developer has gone around the world gobbling up existing malls, building new ones, and calling them all the same thing: Westfield. Pretty un-inventive.
So, I didn’t go to Westfield for a very long time. But when I finally did make it there recently, I was completely blown away.
The design is stunning — light and airy, thanks to an atrium which, while not exactly the great outdoors, does make you feel like you are not in a mall.
The food choices were positively overwhelming. The Food Court had us so flummoxed that we were forced to flee — but so much the better because there is also a series of proper restaurants including The Real Greek, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and The Kitchen Italia, which is what we chose. There was outside seating, but we sat inside near windows which faced onto a wall of ivy and a waterfall and with such a modern feel, we thought we could have been in a mall in California. In dreary London, that is a good thing.
After lunch, I went for a look around the shops and managed to spend £80 without even trying. COS and Massimo Dutti, two of the best value-for-money brands in my mind, were both there — so no more running to Regent Street or Knightsbridge during lunch. There is also a much-needed Apple store, but without the congestion of the Apple store on Regent Street, where the Genius bar is constantly jammed.
Twenty8Twelve, the Sienna and Savannah Miller brand, also has a Westfield outpost, saving jaunts into the congestion charge zone that annoyingly begins where Shepherd’s Bush ends. This is only notable because I spent £80 that would not have been injected into the retail economy had the mall not existed. I was not looking for anything and I would not have made the trip to visit any of these stores independently. It was all happenstance.
Since my first visit, I’ve been back several times and have never walked out empty handed. Judging from the other bag-laden shoppers I see roaming Westfield, neither is anyone else. Admittedly, I see more Next and Marks & Spencer bags than Prada ones, but very few of the stores have been empty and I can’t say that about the stores on Bond Street, even at sale time.
There have been reports of friction between Westfield and some tenants over service charges and the like and I’ve been told that in order to attract the multitude of brands, some major deals were offered to lure the luxury brands. Two years’ free rent, anyone?
But regardless, it seems, from my experience anyway, that the concept is a hit. Westfield is continuing with its plans for a mall in East London to coincide with the 2012 Olympics, although the economic climate has led it to postpone other projects in Nottingham, Bradford and Guildford.
The true test for Westfield will come next month, when the sales end. But I think that anyone who has been there will go back. And given that the mall is averaging ½ million shoppers per week since it opened, this bodes well for a successful future. Incidentally, the new cinema, which doesn’t even open until later this year, will inevitably draw even more people within irresistible spending distance of all those shops.
I’m curious to know if all is as sunny as it seems. If any retailers reading have shops in Westfield, please let me know if business is booming there or not.