In case you missed the big news last week, John Lewis announced the department store in Sheffield is one of the ones scheduled for closure.
Obvious factors in this are the lockdown and migration of shoppers online. The retail space they have is huge, a classic old style department store, on four floors, with a multi-storey car park on the side.
There’s a great deal of nostalgia to such places, they are a piece of living commercial history, from the days before online shopping, a place to visit for the experience, to see the goods before buying, to enjoy the customer service which was notoriously excellent.
I bought an iPad pro from John Lewis, and got a replacement keyboard a year later without a receipt.
I discovered on the fourth floor they had the best foreign exchange rates anywhere in Sheffield, and changed a few thousand pounds into a few more thousand dollars for a trip to Cambodia. Good times. And yet, as Easter teaches us, things must die in order to rise again. And I have confidence that the resurrected retail emporium in the centre of town will be one such success.
Crucially, the council owns the lease, and this gives them the ability to make decisions for the good of the city.
There’s already talk of creating a ‘retail start-up emporium’ on one of the floors, and that’s a very exciting prospect, a place where new start-ups could have a retail presence selling whatever it is they produce, from food items to clothing to music and art and furniture and every other thing that people create and would like to sell.
The opportunity is incredible, and whilst it’s sad to see John Lewis close, the space it leaves behind is ideal for a regeneration of the city centre.
The site is so perfect, and also so massive, that it’s also ideal for other major retailers to take a presence in.
This combination of new, innovative, independents sharing the space with old school established brands creates continuous opportunity for synergies and discoveries, for shoppers, to discover new styles and labels and for the independents and brands, in terms of collaborations.
It mixes the customer base, and brings a reason for young people to shop in the physical place, when it’s vibrant, innovative, exciting, and new, and accessible for their own creative input, all the attributes lacking in the old-style department stores.
It provides amazing opportunities for start-ups and brands to work together, and for shoppers to experience a far wider range of offerings.
There can be music studios. Sheffield is legendary for it’s music, there can be fashion shows, courtesy of the Fashion School in the university, and art experiences. Sheffield is awash with artists, and live performances, and a redeveloped eating area can provide more new start-ups with opportunity to meet and serve the public.
The building is massive, ideally central, well served by public transport and with it’s own car park for hundreds of vehicles.
It’s literally in the perfect location. One floor at a time, it can be transformed into a unique and extraordinary location for shopping, eating, drinking, and exploring the creativity and excellence of Sheffield. John Lewis may be gone, but what it leaves behind is a site that can become a major draw for Sheffield people and beyond.
And who knows. John Lewis might even like a concession there one day. It would be good to welcome them back.