Jewellers face eviction if they fail to fit in with new arcade style.
Jewellery and watch retailers in London’s Burlington Arcade are facing a battle with its American and European owners amid plans to update the arcade’s style with high-fashion retailers such as Jimmy Choo and Gucci.
The mood at the arcade is turning increasingly sour after many of its jewellery retailers – most of whom sell antique or period jewellery – were told to change or move on when their leases come up for renewal next year.
The 194-year-old arcade’s owners, Meyer Bergman and Thor Equities, have hired New York-based retail expert Peter Marino to give the space and its stores a makeover that will include a white marble floor, modern lighting and sculptural installations by Anthony Gormley, who created the Angel of the North.
The £2.5 million makeover by Marino, who has a trademark outfit that includes a black leather cap and sunglasses, has upset retailers who feel threatened by the changes that Meyer Bergman and Thor Equities believe are necessary to the future of the arcade.
Many of the businesses in the arcade have been run by generations of families, with several in-situ for more than for more than 50 years. Richard Ogden, whose father opened a store in the Burlington Arcade almost 60 years ago, has said that its owners are only interested in making money, rather than caring about its history.
Daniel Bexfield, owner of a silverware shop that has operated in the arcade for 13 years has been told in no uncertain terms that his premises “no longer fits the desired image” of the arcade and when his lease comes up for review it will terminated.
Susanna Lovis, a specialist in Victorian and Edwardian jewellery is said to be devastated by the plans and remains fearful for the smaller independent stores in the arcade. Lovis says the space risks being turned into “another Westfield”.
There are even reports of audacious businessman turning up with tape measures and pencils and paper, taking measurements and trying to offer retailers lump sums into the millions to give up their spaces.
A number of celebrities have already voiced their concerns for the changes including film director Michael Winner. On Twitter, Bexfield is leading a campaign against the owner’s plans and is asking members of the public to write to Westminster Council’s planning office to speak out against the developments.
A reported £2 billion is spent each year in the Mayfair area where the Burlington Arcade is situated, something that Meyer Bergman and Thor Equities will be please about. However they have quickly jumped to defend the changes they are trying to make.
Markus Meijer, chief executive of Meyer Bergman told London’s Evening Standard earlier this week that the jewellery retailer’s fears were unfounded. He told the newspaper that Marino "has a lot of experience in Mayfair and Chelsea so he understands the historic sensitivities".
Marino reportedly told Esquire magazine that he likes that his shops “aren’t built to last”, but he has also been praised for his work at Louis Vuitton and Chanel store in London.
“Instead of a bland, identikit shopping mall, we want to secure the future of the arcade by drawing on the strength of the past and celebrating its heritage and uniqueness. We want the arcade to serve the needs of the generation before as well as those to come,” said Meijer.
“It is a place where old and new worlds meet, united by a common thread of exceptional quality, authenticity, bespoke craftsmanship and creativity.”
Looking ahead to the types of brands and retailers it wants to attract, Meyer Bergman says that while the arcade will aim to maintain a mix of retailers, including some of the traditional antique jewellers, it will also welcome a Lulu Guinness store, opening today, and men’s footwear from Jimmy Choo.
The work in the Burlington Arcade is due to be completed next year, in time for the Queen’s Jubilee.