Westfield Stratford City opened its doors today to a heaving throng of crowds, defying the gloomy forecasts that have filled the media this week of an economy on the precipice of another recession.
Maybe those crowds were just canny Eastenders turning up in the hope of finding freebies and not spending any money. They didn’t give that impression and had they been there were so many of them that it would have left the rest of the East End today like a ghost town. But over the road, in the ‘old’ Stratford Town Centre, rather than being deserted you could hardly get through the main door.
Perhaps the crowds had just turned up to listen to Nicole Sherzinger singing. They got their rather early if it was just for that. Or maybe they had just come to see The Mayor, Boris Johnson, performing the official opening. Of course, with Boris you never know whether he might choose to burst into song instead, but as there were no signs of people hurrying for the exits, it’s probably safe to assume he was on his best and therefore non-melodic behaviour.
No, it really looked as if, amongst the doom and gloom, here was an enthusiastic mass of happy shoppers and they were indeed spending the very money that nobody seems to think exists any more. Melancholy had turned into melody. The cold morning wind and intermittent cloud was losing out to the sun and a blue sky. And maybe, maybe, we were witnessing the rebirth of the East End of London that has been predicted for so long but never totally taken hold.
Let’s just hope the spending wasn’t all on credit though, or this crowd could create a recession on their own. But at least they were inside the shops, welcomed by the retailers and spending something, a stark contrast to just a few weeks ago when shops all over London were full of uninvited late night shoppers who left without apparently having time to pay but disingenuously did find the time to destroy the premises on the way out.
Today was such a positive contrast to August.
Not all the shops, restaurants and hotels are open yet, but that hardly seemed to matter. There was no shortage of places to tempt the wallets and purses open and it would have seemed churlish even for the stingiest amongst us not to have parted with some cash. You sort of felt you wanted to help, even though Westfield clearly know what they are doing when it comes to designing a temple to the great gods of retail.
The empty shops with their brightly painted hoardings also left a sense not so much of something still missing as of yet more to come. And of course there is yet more to come, because lurking at the end of every Westfield Street is a stadium, a new train station and block upon block of the flats that are to become the Olympic village.
Will Westfield Stratford City be a success? Will it succeed at the expense of other areas? Will it generate truly new business, or just move business around? Will it really kick start regeneration across the East End of London? Or will it sit there like cuckoo in the East End retail nest?
In a world as volatile as our world is today there is little point making predictions. But today there was a buzz, there was excitement and a feeling of hope. Some history was made today and the East End will never quite be the same again.
13 Sep 2011
A new bus station and new links to Stratford Regional station in the south and Stratford International station and the new Stratford International DLR give easy connections to public transport. Leytonstone has even been recognised in the name ‘Hitchcock Lane’ by the bus station.