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Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Eade on: how shops make plymouth rock": Christine Eade witnesses thefirst day's trading at the Drake Circus shopping centre.(Retail +leisure--Eade on).

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NANCY ASTOR, PLYMOUTH'S PRE-WAR Conservative MP, would have recoiled from every minute of the opening day at the city's Drake Circus shopping centre.

For Lady Astor believed in self-improvement through abstinence. She told the poor to eat carrot soup and piloted a law through parliament to raise the age for buying alcohol to 18.

Yet at the newly extended branch of Marks & Spencer that joins Drake Circus by a spectacular bridge, staff dispensed plastic flutes of free champagne to a long line of customers. On the lingerie floor, a fountain cascaded chocolate that fell on to fresh strawberries.

On 5 October, Plymouth's long period of retail abstinence ended. When Lady Astor stood down in 1945 she left a Blitz-flattened city that was replaced by a grid-iron 1950s shopping area of big granny department stores and small unit shops. Last month, the two prime shopping streets of Cornwall Street and New George Street led to the 560,000 sq ft (51,950 sq m) 200m [pounds sterling] Drake Circus. It was 20 years in the planning and suffered more setbacks than a soap opera wedding, as both letting agent and anchor went out of business.

CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN



That is probably why P&O Estates, which bought the original 1970s Drake Circus from Laing Properties in 1990 and demolished it, steered clear of the jugglers, stilt-walkers and feather-clad dancers who are generally hired for shopping centre openings.

Instead, there was a tarpaulin outside, where civic and P&O dignitaries made forgettable speeches and VIPs huddled under a mushroom field of purple umbrellas--Drake's corporate colours. The horizontal rain was the kind that gives covered shopping centres a good name.

Inside 120,000 shoppers made their own celebrations. The scene at 9 am resembled New Year's Eve in Times Square. Shoppers chanted 'five, four, three, two, one' as Virgin Megastore opened. The crowd moved on to perform the same ceremony outside New Look.

Next there was the big one: Primark. Buck's fizz was offered at the entrance to the 65,000 sq ft (6,038 sq m) store. Staff handed out lobster pot-shaped baskets in the unshakable belief that no one could resist Primark prices.

By 9 am, all eight tills on the ground floor and all eight tills at the Charles Street basement floor were manned.

Customers inspected the merchandise at Plymouth's first Primark, saying appreciatively of the prices: 'You couldn't knit it for that,' before deciding to return when the store was less crowded.

By the time the tills were turned off at 9 pm, 4,500 items of clothing had been sold--80% more than Primark had expected.



After this first 12-hour trading period, all the retailers were boasting similar statistics. Yet Drake Circus was only 90% let on opening day. Some retailers, such as Storm, Jane Norman, Coast, Wallis and Monsoon, had their fascias in place, but were not fitted out in time for the opening. It doesn't bode well for the 2008 bonanza of openings.

And there is always the enemy at the gates. Superdrug's minions handed out flyers cutting 10% off the prices in its New George Street shop; Principles' leaflet promised 10 [pounds sterling] off every 50 [pounds sterling] purchase.

Back inside Andrew Mounsey, the divisional executive of Marks & Spencer, showed me the store, now enlarged from 40,000 sq ft to 80,000 sq ft (3,716 sq m to 7,432 sq m). He was interrupted by a woman who said she had been told that if she went to the people dressed in black she could get free vouchers.

He apologised for not being the voucher man, and redirected her. Another woman spoke, more graphically than I dare to report, about the size of the lavatory cubicles.

Mounsey replied without hesitation: 'Madam, a few weeks ago we had no lavatories. Now we have lavatories and two restaurants.'

That surely is a better world--even Lady Astor would have agreed.

Source Citation
Eade, Christine. "'Eade on: how shops make plymouth rock': Christine Eade witnesses the first day's trading at the Drake Circus shopping centre." Property Week 71.44 (2006): S60. General OneFile. Web. 23 Sept. 2010.
Document URL
http://find.galegroup.com/gps/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T003&prodId=IPS&docId=A154816398&source=gale&srcprod=ITOF&userGroupName=18551_mcpls&version=1.0


Gale Document Number:A154816398

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