I love John Lewis. I love Waitrose. But do I want to live in one? Does anyone? They don’t tend to have the attributes one wants in residential accommodation (windows for a start).
I talked about #propertypivots last week. Repurposing and reinventing real estate for new and innovative uses is great in theory. It’s the way forward. It’s the only alternative to dereliction.
If retailers can’t make their portfolios work then we do have to find a way breathe new life into tired, empty high streets. It seems as though the promise of a pivot is the new way to put a positive spin on retailers’ bad news. We need positivity badly right now but I am struggling to see this news in a positive light. The House of Fraser to flexible workspace pivot at Westfield made sense. House of Fraser was a pre-COVID casualty and this was a good news story to fill a huge void.
But can the prospect of a John Lewis or Waitrose closing and pivoting into a new use (even much needed affordable housing) ever be good news? The old BHS, Woolworths and recently shuttered M&S stores have not managed this metamorphosis into housing - why will a John Lewis be able to?
Sugar coating the closure of an anchor John Lewis store because it “might” turn into housing is not washing. I am worried the property pivot is becoming the panacea. The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Let’s face it, when a store such as John Lewis or Waitrose closes, it has a fundamental impact on that locality. No amount of potential pivoting will change that. Can the prospect of losing our shopping meccas (and the sign your area is gentrified) finally convince us to get back to shopping in real life rather than online? The threat of COVID’s second wave is unlikely to enable us to do so, however much we want to save our beloved stores.
John Lewis plan to turn empty shops into homes