London’s retailers believe the Olympics will be the catalyst for future growth - despite many suffering a downturn in sales during the Games.
A new survey of independent retailers conducted for The Grocer by Retail Attack CBJWT, found 66% of London-based retailers believe the Games will leave a lasting legacy. Far fewer retailers outside the capital felt the same, with just 41% expecting a long-term benefit.
The positive feelings towards the Games were surprising given the impact felt while they were going on. More than half (52%) the shopkeepers close to London’s venues reported that trade took a turn for the worse during the Games - against 33% outside the capital.
As Westfield shopping centre in Stratford attracted 5.5 million shoppers over the course of London 2012, on the other side of the park, one Premier fascia store owner claimed trade was 50% down during the Olympic fortnight. “Business has been completely dead,” he added. “The organisers completely blocked the area off for the two weeks.”
park life: what is the legacy?
LOCOG reckons the Olympic legacy in East London will be the rejuvenation of some of the capital’s most deprived areas.
In addition to the 2,700 homes that will come from the conversion of the former athletes’ village into a residential complex, and the further 8,000 homes earmarked for the 559-acre site, LOCOG says the cultural attractions planned for the area will one day rival those of the South Bank. Three schools and several nurseries will also be built.
It’s not going to happen overnight though. The transformation will not be complete until 2030, says site owner London Legacy Development Corp, and the first new residents of the former Olympic Park are not expected to move in until 2015.
The proprietor of a neighbouring independent off-licence agreed. “They pushed all the people through Stratford, so our business died,” he said. “We stocked extra drinks and we couldn’t sell it.”
It wasn’t just small traders who were hit by the disruption. “People just haven’t been coming into the area,” said the deputy manager of one big four supermarket in Stratford. “They have closed the Westfield Shopping Centre car park and the other one. So people are avoiding the area. We’re at least 20% down.”
However, another big four retailer enjoyed a 10% increase in sales, as a result of being closer to the main thoroughfare visitors used en-route to the Olympic Park.
“That wasn’t from our usual core customers - most of them went away - the majority of it was from athletes, spectators and visitors,” said the store manager. “We moved our usual meal solutions further up the shop and almost created a shop within a shop for visitors who were coming in and buying snacks and drinks, and the athletes who were buying lots of memorabilia.”
And retailers were optimistic, pointing to LOCOG’s claims that Stratford’s Olympic Park will be redeveloped as a residential and cultural centre to rival the South Bank, as a source of hope.
“The disruption was short-term,” said Kamal Mawela, a Spar retailer in East London who estimated trade was down 20% during the Games as a result of traffic disruption and road closures. “But there’s been a lot of investment, which is bound to have a positive effect in the long run.”