Serious doubts exist over Westfield’s plans to redevelop in the town centre. Yet while the council does its best to close down legitimate high street businesses, or mismanages one of the country’s oldest traditional street markets and drives away stall-holders, MT WALLETTE, our retailing correspondent, has found one outlet allowed to trade on North End whose practices give off a very suspicious whiff
Have you been on the High Street recently?
In March, a charismatic man with portable speaker and microphone was standing outside one of North End’s unmarked stores, what was previously The Money Shop, situated between Vodafone and Pizza Hut. He had roused a crowd and excitedly tossed bottles of perfume into the hands of passing shoppers eager for a bargain.
“That’s free! That’s on me!” he’d say upon each catch.
Those who were intrigued by the practised spiel wandered over. Before they knew it, some shoppers had been ushered into the store and instructed to close the doors behind them…
Inside, the street barker delivered more lines about the wonderful offers that he would have up for sale in his new perfume store, which was opening “… this Sunday, because what’s on Sunday? That’s right, Mother’s Day!”
He wasn’t going to add to his costs, and the price of his products, by doing anything so daft as to pay for advertisements in a newspaper. “Let’s face it, no one reads the newspapers any more do they?” he said, as he encouraged his rapt audience to do his work for him and spread the word about his new shop.
Four months later, and the Fine Perfumery bags have reappeared on the High Street, clutched in the hands of a small group of people, most of them convinced that they’ve just landed a genuine bargain.
According to one unsuspecting shopper who also spotted the bags, “This stung me a bit, because I still have this same bag at home that I spent 40 quid on,” they say, remembering their encounter with this same shop from earlier in the year.
“It’s full of completely unknown perfume brands despite being lead to believe during his charade that he was putting well-known, upper market brands in there.”
We watched his performances, over and over again. On one occasion, we even ventured inside. “So when exactly are you opening?”
“We’re hoping to open this Friday, in time for the weekend. It’s hot today, isn’t it?
“What’s that your drinking? Oh, from Five Guys is it? I’ve yet to go there… Anyway, you have a great day.”
It’s a neat little setup, and quite impressive, until you strip back the layers.
A short, balding fat man manages the stock, making up new bags of the bottles of perfume of questionable provenance. Some might call it “knock-off”, imitation brands. Maybe it’s more accurate to say its just cheap crap, from some kind of wholesaler, or just another layer of the operation, designed to lend more credence to the ploy.
The tall, blue-eyed bloke with much more, (albeit greying) hair, commands the microphone, gathers the crowd and sucks them inside.
Then there’s a third member of the team who was harder to spot. A young man, overweight and deathly pale, was hanging out a few doors down from the action. He was definitely in the crowd of bargain hunters an hour before, when we first began to scout out the place.
He received a text on his phone, quickly put it away and went to mill about right in front of the store. Lo and behold, when the “free” perfume bottles started flying, the bait to lure shoppers in, it was this man who was catching many of them. He dextrously slipped the caught bottles into a satchel slung over his shoulder. He’d always enter the store with the crowd and leave again with his satchel looking much emptier. This minimises the operation’s losses, without sacrificing on all the apparent excitement involved when the “free” perfume goes flying.
It’s all an elaborate show, of offering something for nothing, when the exact opposite is, in fact, the case, as people are being parted with their hard-earned for goods which are not always what they purport to be.
It’s the sort of thing that would often be played out in markets, or on the street corners of the West End’s plushest shopping areas, such as Oxford Street, in the bad old days, before there was much in the way of consumer protection and properly enforced trading standards.
And a time when there were still enough police to patrol the streets frequently enough that the barkers and peddlers would need to have a couple of watch-outs posted, so that they might scoop up their wares into a suitcase and disappear into the crowd at the first sight of officialdom.
Perhaps, after almost a decade of austerity and cut-backs on police and council staff, it is the kind of charade which is able to thrive once again, from an empty shop on North End, without any real fear of the authorities moving in to check for such niceties as licences, receipts and whether the products’ labels match their content.
The perfume operation on North End has all been reported to Action Fraud, the police and to Croydon Council, and all to no avail.
Our geezer with the microphone has been repeating his act, over and over again, claiming that the “grand opening” will be this weekend, and meanwhile passing off bag-loads of product which is rarely what it is claimed to be. There can be no returns, of course, because the shop never really opens. And anyway, who has a valid receipt for their purchase?
Now further along the High Street, closer to West Croydon Station, but still firmly within what is supposed to be the “Croydon Business Improvement District”, there’s a different store offering apparently significant discounts on pricy brands such as Dyson and the “new” Nintendo Game Cube. Yes, they actually put a poster up in the window for a console that was first on the (legitimate) market 18 years ago.
It’s all very Del Boy, with his telescopic Christmas trees and Peckham spring water and other not-quite-right products and stuff that fell off the back of a lorry.
And after seven years of waiting for Westfield to “happen”, it is all a sign of how Croydon’s once attractive High Street shopping area is being transformed into Hooky Street.
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Oh how true is this comment! Compare this with the real Westfield in Stratford for instance, where the experience of shopping is so different. A few yards from the staton, food halls and lots of shops displaying genuine goods. I never saw a tatty one and only two or three closed and being refurbished to re-open. Lets be relistic, Croydon is never going toi make it, there isnt the space to compete with Strattord or the West London one, both of which are four times the size of the Whitgift Centre, easily reached by train from Croydon, and doing well, by their outward appearance. Sorry, I love Croydon all my life, but lets be realistic!
Wikipedia says Stratford Westfield retail space is 1.8m square feet, whilst Whitgift is 1.3 and Centrale 0.8.
Population catchment area wise, ours is much much bigger then Stratford, and wealthier too.
The actual plan put forward by Westfield for Croydon was for 1.5m sq ft of retail space over three floors. This was envisaged as providing more than 300 units.
But that was their second bash at the scheme, and saw 1,000 flats in tower blocks included (up from 600).
All that may be about to change, if they go ahead at all, with offices and a hotel in the mix, and therefore possibly much less space for retail.
You’re not really comparing apples with apples here. The Westfield centres are very successful, yes. They continue to buck retail trends and actually have year on year rises in footfall compared to “traditional” high streets (https://www.retailsector.co.uk/49772-westfield-reports-footfall-rise-in-july/). It has always been my suspicion that the slow death of the high street plays perfectly well in to the hands of Westfield who no doubt would love to see just their handful of “super centres” offerring shopping, eating, entertaintment, accomodation etc replacing the vast number of smaller high streets we have enjoyed in this country to date.
Westfield have chosen Croydon because it does provide the space and is the natural spot for their “South London” catchment. But what they have proven is their utter contempt for the negative impact they cause by continuing to delay and review their options. You can almost hear the bigwigs in the boardroom saying, “Well they should be grateful we chose Croydon….” yeah, cheers Westfield. Cough cough.
I’d be happy to be proved wrong but I have said from the beginning that Croydon Westfield was a project that could never be realised. As mikebwebb says, the available space is just not there nor, frankly, are the truly convenient transport links nor the reachable market or the lustre of the town as a destination for upmarket shopping. No, it was always an unfeasible, over-ambitious, over-aspirational, grandiose, overblown, pompous, ill-researched, vainglorious, self-deluded scheme fuelled by an odd mixture of old-boy loyalty ( Barwell), hunger for recognition (Negrini and Newman and lots before) and greed (far too many to mention). There were all those plus, in the end, the quixotic and unattainable desire to make Croydon a dream retail destination. Just try rolling this round your tongue: “Ahh, let’s all go to lovely Croydon, a wonderful place for really shopping, high-level stuff. All the best people go there.” Not easy to say without giggling. No, let’s face it, Croydon is what it always has been, a bustling South London town with some earthy charm of its own…or at least it used to have. A refurbishment of the Whitgift Centre and incorporation of some to the shops in Centrale may have worked. Now the Monty Python Blue Parrot, an ex, gone, finished……..shame.
Hi Arno. I’d have been inclined to have agreed wih you if Westfield STRATFORD hadn’t happened. But if you can Westfield a Stratford, you can Westfield a Croydon!
In Stratford, Westfield had to work to a deadline of 2012.
In Croydon? Meh…
In turn, I’d agree with David if it could be arranged for Croydon to host the next Olympic Games but one. That’s what made all the difference to Westfield Stratford, that and the ongoing legacy of facilities, the park, the wonderful transport links and, last but by no means least, the setting at the edge of a vibrant, buzzy, smart new housing district. If Westfield Croydon were ever to come into being I am not sure how shoppers would react to its setting at one end of a derelict high street and adjacent to a very different environment in the shape of the shops from West Croydon towards Thornton Heath. I am not in any way critical of these, they are a wondrous and fascinating mixture but would not fit well with an upmarket mall of the Westfield ilk.
I went past that perfume joint today. The gentleman running it assured the mugs that the Dolce and Gabbana samples he was giving away was because his company was opening up a shop there next week. I hope Paul Scott is invited to cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony. That fake D&G would cover up the stench from him shutting down the traders in Allders.
In January 2103 the amazingly prescient editor of Inside Croydon wrote:
“We are promised a swanky town centre development with more shops and (yet another) cinema complex, all of which will create thousands of jobs by restoring Croydon to its former glory as the shopping and entertainment Mecca of south London.
“What’s not to like? Let me put it this way: I’m concerned we may be embracing yesterday’s solution to solve tomorrow’s problem.”
He, wondrous person, was 100% right then and he’s 100% right now.
Awww, shucks, Arno
If you like, I can find plenty more examples of IC prescience….but then you may run out of embarrassment power!