World’s first pop-up mall, Boxpark, opens in East End
11:36 05 December 2011
Shop owners in the East End have been boxing clever for an age but one businessman believes he has taken the retail experience to a whole new level.
This Saturday, Roger Wade saw his long-held dream of building a low-cost mall out of recycled shipping containers become a reality and, for him, Boxpark was always about offering something completely different.
With its 60 plus succinct, rectangular stores, all creatively laid out to offer something unique with the limited space they have, different it certainly is.
Built at the Goodsyard in Bethnal Green Road – a site which lay unused for 40 years – Boxpark is pitched as the world’s first pop-up mall as it only has a five-year lease before the owners of the land decide what to do with it.
But if the locals buy into Mr Wade’s vision, he says it could become a more permanent fixture.
“We feel most high streets and shopping centres offer the same thing and it’s getting boring,” the businessman said.
“When we choose a brand we don’t look at their funds or how many stores they’ve got, we look at the kind of brand they are. The big brands that are here, we’ve asked them to come and create something special with us.”
Rather than fear the fleeting nature of Boxpark, its creator says it is “low costs” and “short leases” that have attracted exactly the sort of retailers he wants in his mall.
He added: “The reality is, it’s very hard for small brands to be able to afford long leases and it’s difficult sometimes for them to get beyond the financial covenants required for big shopping centres.
“With Box Park it’s low-risk retailing. Stores can sign up for one year or five years.”
But there has also been a fair bit of “positive discrimination” towards independent stores, he adds.
“Some of the biggest retailers in the world have approached Boxpark and said they would bend over backwards to come here but we’ve said we feel there are enough places for them.
“In the case of coffee shops, we had interest from all the major coffee shop operators and we chose to go with a tiny operator that only has one other shop in Soho, Foxcroft and Ginger.”
Within the two-storey mall, there is a fusion of big brand names like Nike, Levi’s and Vans, alongside independent businesses.
For clothing brand Abuze, Boxpark is the first ever store.
Owner and creative director, Aleks Grabowski said it was the way his shop could compete on an “even-level” with the big brands that made Boxpark appeal.
He said: “We were operating online for seven years but we wanted to grow. We were looking at other locations but the fact we get given an empty box appealed to me because we are very careful about how our brand looks.”
Boxpark has provided another first for human rights charity Amnesty International which has set up its first shop selling artworks, homeware and books in collaboration with artists.
Sales team manager, Lara Woolston said the store provides a way to bring the charity into “people’s everyday lives through shopping”.
For Christopher Fung, managing director of juice bar Crussh, which has 22 other stores across London, pop-ups are perfect for trialling new ideas within a brand.
He said: “We’ve done many pop-up events and the great thing about them is it gives brands the chance to experiment. We’re looking into getting a permanent alcohol licence here. A sort of Crussh after dark.”
Boxpark may not have been around for more than two minutes but its founder has big ideas for the future and financial backing, too.
Just last week, telecoms giant Carphone Warehouse signed on as a silent partner and a fortnight ago the brand agreed on a joint venture to build another Boxpark in a location in Europe.
But if the big shots are interested now, won’t their enticing offers be hard to resist as the brand expands?
Mr Wade is adamant Boxpark won’t become another generic shopping complex trademark.
He said: “Even if we go to other areas, it doesn’t mean we’re selling out. If we go to Manchester we’ll approach local Manchester stores.
“We want to follow Selfridges and Liberties who travel the whole world looking for great brands.”
Alongside opportunities for independent businesses, more than 200 jobs have been created within the mall.
The desperation for jobs - Tower Hamlets currently has the highest unemployment rate among young people in London – played out on opening day, with youngsters turning up to hand in their CVs in a matter of hours after the sash was cut.
The local community’s response to the mall is key to its success, Mr Wade said.
“We want to expand. We might stay after the five years if the landlord decides not to develop. The local community have to decide, do they really want a long-term mall in that position?
“It’s the average person on the street who will choose whether Boxpark is successful or not.”
So, will you dare to think outside the box?