Re: Re: Roches Stores gone!

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This is quite timely in light of the news about Roches this week. The IT also notes that GAP are moving into the irish market with a big concession in Arnotts to open later this year including street frontage on Henry Street. H&M are also intending on expanding.

Defending against ‘la Londonisation’

Other European countries are protecting their shops from the predatory claws of the multi national brands, writes Deirdre McQuillan, Fashion Editor.

Around where I stay in Paris during fashion week, I am surrounded by cafes, restaurants and small shops selling everything from kitchenware and lingerie to jewellery, cakes, clothes and antiques. Small independent retail and artisanal outlets are part of the attraction and pleasure of the French capital, along with great butchers, vegetable, fruit and cheese shops, not to speak of florists and bakeries at nearly every turn. It’s a standard of life that French city centres are accustomed to and its vibrancy and survival are down to French planning laws.

In l973 the Royer Act was passed to protect small shops, improve the quality of urban life and prevent “inordinate growth of new forms of distribution that squeeze out small entrepreneurs”. Its Commission for Commercial Urbanisation evaluates each planning application on merit and is entrusted to ensure a good balance of all forms of commerce. There are regulations on direct selling, discount selling and advertising and on the encouragement of artisan trading. Its chambers of commerce are far more powerful and have greater responsibilities for trading than their Irish equivalents.

In other parts of Europe it’s the same. In Rome, another shopping haven, landmark shops are protected from the predatory claws of multinational brands and franchises by an alliance called the Association of Rome’s Historic Shops, which makes shopping and strolling for the visitor such a treat. The association promotes “and defends the values” of shops that have existed for over a hundred years and are considered to be institutions by Romans. Many are still in the ownership of the same families and are cherished emblems of the traditions and culture of the city.

Though Italy under Berlusconi welcomed globalisation, Rome has still managed to resist Starbucks (which has nearly 500 outlets in the UK) and when an intended McDonalds site was announced near the Spanish Steps, it prompted a massive demonstration that propelled the fledgling slow food movement into the fast lane. The McDonalds did eventually open, but the golden arches were noticeable only for being uncharacteristically discreet.

According to a 2001 report, most OECD countries have special regulations that apply to retail premises, over and above regular urban planning regulations. Only five countries, of which Ireland is one, do not have special measures. Dublin City Council, however, is in the process of putting special planning controls in place to micromanage the balance of retail uses in designated city-centre areas.

Copenhagen was transformed from a declining urban centre into the thriving and reinvigorated city it is today thanks to the work of the visionary architect Jan Gehl. “If you asked people 20 years ago why they went to central Copenhagen they would have said it was to shop,” he says. “But if you ask them today, they would say because they want to go to town.” Note the difference. To walk down Stroget, the Danish equivalent of Grafton Street, is to encounter appealing diversity and local character, small shops alongside specialist Danish department stores with plenty of places to sit and linger. Gehl formulated 12 steps, including places to sit, as central to city management strategies. In Barcelona, Las Ramblas is another successful public place at the heart of that city’s revival.

However, the picture in the UK, as in Ireland, is quite different. So-called retail-led development like urban malls or big chain store shopping has resulted in places which, according to Anna Minton in a recent article in the Guardian, are privatised enclaves “that look the same, are cut off from local people and the local environment and are characterised instead by a fake, theme park atmosphere”. She reports that there is a growing body of evidence that the replacement of independently owned shops isolates people and increases depression. “Having a thriving public life in cities does not depend on the types of shops, but on the approach to the place as a whole,” she argues.

The French call the trend for a metropolis overrun by mobile-phone shops and fast food restaurants “la Londonisation” and have introduced regulations banning half of the 70,000 shops in Paris from ever becoming owned by such operations. The use of certain shops is safeguarded, so that a boulangerie remains a foodshop and a bookshop or greengrocer can’t be another multiple chain outlet. As other European capitals arrest a trend now proliferating around this country, the message is clear: don’t hollow out the heart of your city and keep it vibrant, otherwise watch its demise.

© The Irish Times

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