Sheffield property expert wants John Lewis transformed into ‘retail laboratory for start-ups’

Sheffield’s doomed John Lewis store could become a ‘retail laboratory’ where firms trial new products and services, a property expert has said.

Friday, 26th March 2021, 1:58 pm
Updated Friday, 26th March 2021, 2:00 pm

Popular firms could upgrade to a larger unit within the building and those that were not quite right would move out.

Alexis Krachai, director of Sheffield Property Association, said he saw a ‘retail lab’ on a trip to Edmonton, Canada, and was impressed by the way it took away a lot of the risk in setting up a new shop. And the area around it was ‘buzzing’.

He added: “Imagine. Independent retailers trying out new products and services. Spaces created for exhibitions and performers. Locations for meetings. Spaces for learning and training. Everything and anything under one roof. Always interesting, always changing.

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John Lews in Sheffield City Centre is set to close. Picture: Chris Etchells

“The building upgraded as a zero-carbon space. Managed for the city by the city.

“All of this needs careful design and managing but if there is a will there is a way. Get the right mix and people would come flocking.

“They like interesting and fun things to do together. They also like convenience.”

He spoke out after the firm announced it was not planning to reopen the Barker’s Pool store after lockdown due to the pandemic and internet shopping.

Alexis Krachai, director of Sheffield Property Association

Mr Krachai added: “Perhaps what Sheffield needs is a busy and buzzy retail laboratory with loads to do under one roof. Edmonton has shown, if you build it they will come.”

Martin McKervey, chair of the Sheffield Property Association, said their first thoughts were with the 299 affected staff.

But he said the announcement should be kept in perspective.

He added: “We need to help John Lewis’s staff, but also recognise the many good things that are continuing shaping our new city centre.

“The new cultural venue planned for Fargate. Castlegate is one of the most exciting regeneration areas in the North of England with so much potential. The Heart of the City scheme will also continue to be a real success, not least because of the council’s decision last year to buy the building that John Lewis occupy.

“That investment means the council is in a strong position to think about and control the future of that building and site. The city now has an opportunity to do some smart thinking.”

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Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.