Covent Garden, long favored by West-Enders, Londoners, and tourists aplenty as an excellent mixture of old and new (blending theatre and history with modern shopping and street performers) is taking on the big Apple. No, they’re not challenging New York City (even though they’ve got the acting chops to give Broadway a run for its money, as well as more theatres than you can shake a stick at). In fact, Apple, the well-known electronics conglomerate that created graphics-heavy computers (Macs) and iDevices galore, has recently opened a storefront in the piazza, an area which once overlooked the famed vegetable market (now a high-end shopping center). And it’s not just any Apple store. In fact, it is the largest shop of its kind, and it just happens to be in Covent Garden. So what does this mean for both area businesses and regular patrons?
The store opened in August, and in the few short weeks it has been in operation, it has brought some major changes to the area (for better or for worse, depending on how you look at it). For one thing, the location itself has a lot to offer the iGeneration. Housed in an original building (as per the restrictions on the piazza structures), the interior features original brickwork and glass elevators, giving it a slightly different feel from other Apple establishments. Why the elevators? There are three sprawling floors for shoppers to peruse, and all of them are put to good use. Each Apple product has its own section, so you can head straight for iPad heaven or saunter through iPhones and accessories on the way. With a special area for kids and hundreds of blue-shirts to meet your every need, you could get lost in this store for days. They may have to send in a rescue party (who will probably be quickly distracted by the latest iGadget on display).
And as for their impact on the area, it is already being felt. On opening day, nearly 20,000 people lined up to get a peek at the new store. And if you thought that number might peter out after the initial rush, you couldn’t be more wrong. They have managed to sustain numbers close to 15,000 visitors daily, reportedly bringing in nearly half a million customers to the area in their first month alone. And their consumer draw does not seem to be dwindling. While other shop-owners may be thanking their lucky stars for the overflow foot traffic, many local patrons don’t seem too thrilled with this turn of events.
Comments on blogs lament the loss of the quirky shops that made Covent Garden different from other shopping areas in London and speculate that this brings the historic area one step closer to utter ruination. While some seem content to have an Apple location nearby to meet their many technological needs, most feel that what you can get at one store you can get at another. Despite the fact that they’ve slapped a pretty veneer on the shop, it is just a cookie cutter franchise akin to McDonalds or any other chain. However, even the critics cannot deny that this store has brought a lot of business to the area and will likely continue to do so. Whether or not that’s a good thing for Covent Garden remains to be seen.
Mary Lewis writes for The Woodlands TX, your local guide to the best in shopping, dining, entertainment and more!