Westfield Shopping Metropolis

Dunno what made me do it, really. I guess nosiness, and the vague fear that Greenwich might have something to worry about from a vast mall ten minutes down the tube. And what the hell made me choose Saturday to explore Stratford’s new Westfield shopping centre beggars belief. I can only put it down to heatstroke.

It’s easy to get to, I’ll give it that. I had had some idea that it would be a trudge from the station, but one of the exits from Stratford tube leads straight into this melee of retail opportunity and human mass. I have never seen quite so many people milling through a mall, and it’s not even finished yet (though of course the empty stores have been done out very artistically so they don’t look too boarded up.)

There were queues outside some of the shops that are open, and everywhere else it seemed that the entire population of Britain had decided to wander up and down faceless aisles trying to find the way out.

I guess the best way to describe it is that it’s like Bluewater without the charm (and yes I do know what I’m saying here…) and, when the crowds have died down I suppose that it will be an alternative to Oxford St for the big chains but I can’t see that I’ll be returning soon.

The only place I actively liked was Wahaca, latest in a superior chain of Mexican restaurants. There aren’t, as far as I can see, any indie eateries (or indie-anything) in Westfield, but as chains go, this was very good indeed. My friend and I shared several plates from their street-food selection and enjoyed everything we were served.

Back to the scrum, and I was beginning to get bit freaked out by it all; a bit panicky in the crowds. In the end I just couldn’t face going in most of the shops, merely nipping to M&S to change a birthday shirt that was too small and John Lewis to see the real reason why I came. This:

(as usual, click on the image to make it bigger)

On the top floor of John Lewis, if you can make your way through the tourist tat in the Official Olympic Store, there’s a viewing room, complete with seats and an info board. It’s really quite impressive, and, I think in retrospect, was worth the journey just to see history in action. You can also ┬ásee it from the end of one of Westfield’s streets, but this is the best view.

So – is it a threat to Greenwich? Absolutely no way – this is for a different kind of shopping – mass-market consumer basics type stuff that has a place – we all shop in chains from time to time – but is the exact opposite of the kind of one-off, inventive quirkiness that Greenwich offers.

I’d call it a serious threat to Stratford’s old shopping centre and market, by the theatre, but still hold out hope in that with all those thousands and thousands of people I saw on Saturday I didn’t see thousands and thousands of carrier bags. Stratford is still a town that needs shops for ‘real’ people who don’t do their weekly food shop at M&S and who still need to buy a plastic bucket or a clothes airer…

What we should see it as, however, is a warning – of what Greenwich could turn into if we were ever stupid enough to throw away our Unique Selling Point and buy into the chain-store-clonery that has blighted most of Britain’s towns. I met a woman at an event last night who, although she lives in Pimlico, went into raptures about shopping in Greenwich – something she does on a regular basis – because she can get really unusual stuff she couldn’t hope to find elsewhere.

We still have a real difference. Here’s to keeping it that way.

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5 Comments to “Westfield Shopping Metropolis”

  1. Mathew says:

    i doubt the poundstores and DIY shops of stratford and its environs have much to worry about w/ this.

  2. Ben says:

    I shop regularly in the old Stratford shopping centre, and I don’t see how Westfield can be any kind of threat to it. Very few will desert the market stalls to shop in M&S or Waitrose, nor is John Lewis a direct competitor to Argos and the pound stores. If anything, Westfield will benefit the old shopping centre by increasing footfall. Now, if there was a tesco there, that would be a different matter, but there isn’t, thank god…

  3. Mike Scott says:

    There are actually a bunch of small independent eateries in Westfield East, in a little cluster on the bottom floor at the far end from Stratford station, outside Waitrose.

  4. JJ77 says:

    A more relaxed (at least at the weekend) way to visit Wahaca would be to use the branch in Canary Wharf.

  5. Stephan says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself — the worst thing Greenwich can do is seek this kind of opportunity. It is good to have something like this near us though, but Greenwich shops have to keep what gets people to go to them — the unique experience of independent shops with a unique selection of goods :)