IMG 7983FI - Coal Drops Yard's confused outlook?

Today I was at CDY to catch up with what has been happening. Its not a terribly good picture. I was shown around the place (even though I know it well) and shown units that had closed for lack of business. There’s also units that have not yet seen a single occupier. Just before Xmas I was informed it was doing very well. It has bombed since. If one uses it as a social meeting place rather than a place to buy clothes, perfume etc the story is very different. It could be the economic climate, Brexit, however there’s far more than that and it seems the place is, well, at fault.

It must be stressed there was at least one new unit being worked on so perhaps there is some hope that things will pick up.

This year there has been a number of news reports that have reflected the dire situation CDY retailers have found themselves in. I know a handful of retailers do have a fair/good business, but on the whole it seems for most things are at a low.

The first business reports arose in February this year when retailers complained of the very poor footfall at CDY. At first it was thought the winter had something to do with it and the vast open space between the various shops was somewhere that just didnt endear many during the colder months of the year.

A few weeks ago the same basic fears arose in a fresher article as the above tweet shows, namely that few were visiting the CDY. The following quote from Drapers reflects the situation:

You’d be horrified at the customer numbers. We could have eight people in over a 10-hour day, so it is pretty bleak. I don’t think we can last much longer than the first year if things don’t pick up considerably. I haven’t got the luxury to wait for two years until it becomes a destination. Source: Drapers

From my own observations I can see that the retail shops are suffering. If one looks at King’s Boulevard and Granary Square both of which are right next door, their footfall is enormous. Yet little of it comes into Coal Drops Yard.

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The new Parrillan outdoor restaurant.

The social places (where one eats/drinks) are doing quite well compared to the retail units. Indeed a new venue, Parrillan, opened just a week ago and its doing great. Today it was warm, the sun was shining and these outdoors eating places were well patronised. The shops themselves were still practically empty – but nearby Granary Square was as usual absolutely teeming with people. So where is everyone going if not Coal Drops Yard?

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Another outdoor venue doing well – its called Hicce.

What exactly is it Coal Drops Yard is missing? I don’t really know myself. The Westfields are not a place I would want to visit at any time. I would much rather go to CDY. But its just far too expensive for me. I have never bought anything from here not even a coffee. CDY has got a huge lot of things – because of its location – many things Westfields has not got – and will never have. Not even the Olympic Park endears me in any sense to visit Westfields next door.

Even so for many others CDY is missing something and I am sure they would much rather go to Westfield! So what is it that’s causing these low footfalls? Expensive shops? That is one thing I am sure a lot of us can concur with. Its too high end for most. But there’s something else missing…

It seems possibly CDY’s landlords are not too certain either. They want it to be a shopping centre yet people don’t see it as a shopping centre otherwise they would be here in droves.

I am sure the landlords (Argent) had aspirations it would be like Westfield. Its nowhere near!

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Colourstream by Dan Pearson. One of a number of art installations in the attempt to attract more custom to CDY.

I have seen a number of attempts to attract people to the area but it still remains quite sparse a lot of the time. Currently there’s flower displays along with seats and tables and bean bags in an attempt to encourage a more relaxed and social atmosphere that might get people looking more into the other shops around the site. But is is working? It is if one considers eating, drinking, but again that’s just one part benefiting from these extra endeavours. The rest isnt getting much advantage from it.

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If one reads this descritpion on Colourstream, it can be ascertained thus:

Colourstream at Coal Drops Yard will be delivered in two phases… Part wayfinding and part horticultural installation they will guide visitors towards Coal Drops Yard from Granary Square…

Exactly! They’re desperately trying to find ways to tap into the huge flows of people that pass through Granary Square!

Once again, is it working?

Its said there are differences between the landlord (Argent) and the retailers, Argent wants a high end exclusive site – in other words purely a shopping centre, but those who have stores on the site say they would rather see a more accessible range of retailers and themes which would appeal more. Ironically Shelter has now opened a charity shop at CDY and this it seems is an attempt at making the venue more attractive to a wider range of people.

There are reports several venues started with larger than usual numbers of staff but over time the numbers have had to be pared down despite the assertions from Argent footfall would grow considerably.

I wrote in my first post on CDY last year I had met someone who said Coal Drops Yard simply wouldn’t make it and it seems they could well be right. They insisted CDY was ‘a pastiche, a poor attempt of a Covent Garden in North London.‘ 

I think one of the issues with CDY is it isnt really a browsing environment. Its not like Oxford Street, the Westfields, nor Covent Garden or any number of other shopping locations where one can feel comfortable just browsing, wandering around doing not much in particular, but these places sort of relaxes the mind and probably takes lots of pressure off. I think CDY lacks the ability somehow to put people at ease.

Granary Square is a huge open space and yes the weather can affect it too, it has a huge footfall yet it isnt a shopping centre – its a cultural attraction, and the fountains and special displays is what makes the difference. Its just a place where one can feel at ease, not feel pressurised in any way to do anything. And this is what CDY should be doing but it isn’t.

Things have picked up a bit at CDY but its still nowhere as good as anyone would have hoped. The huge numbers first envisaged are not even materialising and retailers are of course worried.

Heatherwick Studios have been brought in to try and help things along. Their innovative seating called ‘Spun’ has been introduced to CDY. Its a sort of see-saw/rolling seat. They can be used as normal seats or as fun objects and that is the idea!

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Spun seats! Or perhaps its ‘Heatherwick Angel Dust?’

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Heatherwick Studios’ fun seats at Coal Drops Yard.

Finally a tid bit not really relevant to retail/shopping economics – however sign language’s appeared at CDY once again! Its not BSL this time but ASL and its related to arts events in May and June, one of which involves a deaf American artist.

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American Sign Language on banners at Coal Drops yard spelling D, G, T, B (whatever that means!)