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The heart of the community

The pandemic was a tough time for many retailers. But there were some positives for local businesses, as lockdown saw a rise in shopping locally.

Small businesses adapted to help support their communities, providing the products and services people needed in tough times. And, in return, customers showed-up to support the little guys. It’s a trend that’s continued as life (and the high street) returns to normal. And it’s clear that community now plays a larger role in retail, with big-name brands getting in on the act too.

Of course, many local businesses have been championing their communities for years. In South London, for example, Peckham Levels is a dedicated creative and retail space where locals can come together, build their businesses and inspire others. Housed in an old multi-story carpark, it’s breathed new life into a once run-down space - bringing far more to the area than just a place to shop.

Peckam Levels - Turner Works

Real connection with the community

As Peckham Levels demonstrates, successful retailers don't just sell products. They build communities and bring people together. Going forward, we’re seeing several big-name brands bring this to life in their physical stores. Athletic apparel brand Lululemon’s purpose is to ‘ignite a community of people to sweat, grow, and connect’. In line with this, the brand has transformed many of its stores into community hubs, hosting daily ‘Sweat with Us’ yoga, fitness, and health classes.

The Lululemon flagship Chicago store offers two fitness studios, a meditation space, workspace and bar. While their latest Paris store is pretty much a yoga centre, were customers can put their fitness wear to the test. By living and breathing their purpose they’re showing they know and support their local communities around the world - and building a loyal customer-base in the process.

lululemon, Chicago

Similarly, sportswear retailer Footlocker has just launched its first ever Foot Locker Community Store in London’s Brixton -  aiming to build a ‘deeper connection’ with the local community. Moving beyond the traditional retail experience, the store invited locals to play a role in the design and experience of the space. It features artwork designed by local artists including Alex Garcia - an artist and team member at Foot Locker Brixton.

He was commissioned to redesign the House of Hoops space alongside award winning graphic designer Kingsley Nebechi, Carleen De Sözer, Mr Cenz and female street artists, WOM Collective. Created for the community, by the community.

The people and the place

A great way for retailers to fit into an area is by working with their local surroundings. Like Balenciaga’s New York flagship, for example, which treats the space as a public domain. Clothing is displayed in modern environments inspired by the urban city sprawl of New York city - with seats and benches inspired by those found in Central Park and the subway. And wraparound screens playing atmospheric videos which add to the scene.

At the opposite end of the scale, Apple has brought many of their retail spaces back to their former glory - including The Carnegie Library in Washington DC and a Haussmann-era apartment on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. 

Their latest, the Via del Corso store, pays homage to Rome’s rich history of art and culture, with a stunning restoration of a 19th century palace. Built in 1873, Palazzo Marignoli was one of Rome’s most important gathering places for artists, writers, and actors. And Apple has retained this creative community spirit in both look and feel.

Apple, The Carnegie Library

Several pieces of art have been restored and incorporated sensitively in the new store design, including a monumental staircase dating back to 1888 and restored to its original detailing; two large ceiling paintings that date back to the early 1900s; and multiple graffiti panels created by Italian painter Afro Basaldella in 1950.

Community engagement is also at the forefront in store with the first-ever ‘Today at Apple Made in Rome’ program providing skills, tools and creative inspiration for the next generation of Romans. Led by local artists, the program will include music, art and design, content creation, and video sessions.

The tech giants are leading the way in reflecting, embracing and supporting local communities - past and future. And while not all retailers have Apple budgets, we’re sure to see plenty of them following suit and engaging with communities in new and interesting ways.


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