Innovation Studio Thoughts: Has London lost its cool?

27th April 2023 | Jack Oliver

London is no longer the “cool” city it once was, said John Abbate, special projects lead at Save The High Street.

Abbate joined Chris Jukes, director of Liverpool ONE, and Fay Cannings, founder of Seekd, at Completely Retail News’ Innovation Studio session, Unconventional spaces and places at Completely Retail Marketplace on Tuesday (25th).

He continued: “Decades ago, we used to come to London to see what was cool, London, Tokyo, Paris, New York, those were the cities you hit.

“I worked for big, big brands and we would look – what are the independents doing?

“It seems to have lost that. It’s coming back, but London used to be one of those key places to go for inspiration”.

“If you walk down Oxford Street”, he said with a frown, “is that the inspiring, amazing shopping street that it’s internationally known for?”

John Abbate at Innovation Studio, with Fay Cannings (L) and Completely Retail News executive editor and panel host Lisa Pilkington (R)

Abbate also criticised anyone “sitting on vacant units for a very long time”.

“The high streets are part of where we live, and I think in the Pandemic we felt that more, because we couldn’t go very far – we had to go shop on our high streets, and we started to discover our high streets again.

“So how did we let the high streets get to where they are? Which is just a bunch of chicken shops, nail salons, betting shops, and a few big anchor stores clinging on.”

Abbate’s colleague Alex Schlagman, co-founder of Save The High Street, offers some insight into how the Capital has changed:

“London itself is incredibly diverse in its own right. Since COVID, the West End and the City have changed substantially. That’s a similar story with a lot of other major city centres around the UK”, he told Completely Retail News.

He added: “There’s a lot of energy outside, in the secondary and tertiary high streets that wasn’t there pre-COVID. A lot of that energy has shifted from the city centres outwards.”

Going forward, Abbate says that landlords need to be more open to “different kinds of things happening”.

“You get to the top layers and they go: ‘no that doesn’t tick all the boxes I’m used to – no’, or just put it at the bottom of the pile.”

Watch out for the full Innovation Studio session recordings coming soon.


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