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Following a Half Million Pound Loss in Six Months, What’s Next for Boxpark Croydon?

The hip food mall in the south London borough has work to do, but its bosses are more optimistic than some of the traders

Boxpark Corydon
Josh Barrie/Eater London

Updated 12.06.18 — with comment from Boxpark CEO, Roger Wade

It appears that Boxpark — the hip ‘pop-up mall’ development in Croydon — is not proving as fruitful an enterprise as the Shoreditch original, with accounts for the development showing a loss of £500,000 in its first six months of trading. This comes after it was confirmed that Croydon Council loaned the company £3 million to open in October 2016. The development, which is one of two (soon to be more) Boxparks in London, has generated clear discontent in the community.

Croydon councillor Mario Creatura has been vocal about the project and described past figures as “deeply worrying.” He told the Croydon Advertiser: “Residents are increasingly telling us they are concerned about the growing number and frequency of units shutting up shop.

“We all want Boxpark to be a huge success, so I hope the council is doing all it can to listen to and support the unit tenants so that it truly delivers on the investment.”

Boxpark opened in 2011 as, the brand claims, ‘the world’s first pop-up food mall’. It has seen huge success in Shoreditch and expansion has been, and will continue to be, seemingly inevitable. A Wembley site is also on the way; a fourth location in Walthamstow may follow.

Boxpark CEO Roger Wade has himself conceded that Croydon is not Shoreditch. The entrepreneur is yet to respond to repeated requests for a statement from Eater, but made the comments while talking to the local paper.

Wade said: “This is not Shoreditch. The customers are not the same. The draw is not the same.” He later added: “We have some major social issues in Croydon, and Croydon is in a state of flux. One concern is that some people are complacent about change.”

Wade has since told Eater: “We understand the concerns that have been voiced surrounding Boxpark Croydon, as a business, we had always planned to make a loss in our first year of trading and the figures included within this piece were planned and forecasted for.

“Boxpark will be in Croydon for years to come and we’re looking forward to helping support the growth of the area, championing new vendors and welcoming residents and visitors alike to the site.”

He also confirmed that the business had “planned for turnover within the units, as all landlords experience, and although we’re always sad to see a vendor leave, it provides an opportunity for a new outlet to join the Boxpark family.”

“As we are located in the heart of Croydon we absolutely want to champion local businesses and have recently run a campaign to find a local business to gift a 6-month tenancy to, in order to help it grow and thrive,” Wade added.

Rarely — if ever, for any length of time — would a unit appear empty at Boxpark in Shoreditch. The site is most often teeming with young professionals queuing for craft beer, soft serve, street food, or hoodies. On the contrary, Boxpark Croydon is proving less appealing; the south London locale is a different socio-demographic and not yet as popular a destination for those outside the borough. Croydon folk are older, suburban, and more likely to have a family. Shoreditch is the home of young professionals with disposable income.

When Eater visited the location on 9 May, there were three spaces to be let. There were only a moderate number of diners present. But it is not a picture of total bleakness. Traders indicated they knew there would be disparity between the two environs. They were largely positive — but there was also hesitancy.

Donatas Mėčius runs the Chicago Ribshack. He told Eater: “Here, it is local. It’s very different to Shoreditch, but we know that. It is lunchtime office workers and families at weekends.

“Business is up and down. It’s not bad, but, yes, it’s not as good as expected. I do think more could be done to entice people here – how do we do that? We’re working on it.

“It’s always nice in here and Boxpark puts on music events to draw customers. When Crystal Palace play, it can be strong. I think we just need a boost.” (The football season ended in May and does not start again until August.)

Kelsey Neilson, who grew up in Croydon and has worked at Sri Lankan restaurant Kothu Kothu since opening, told Eater that the reputation of Croydon is a hindrance.

“I did think it was going to be much better. Weekends and match days are great, but Sundays are dead and during the week it’s hit and miss.

“Croydon has a reputation. Overall I think Boxpark here is really positive. We just need to get it out there and spread the word. We need more people to know this is actually a cool place.”

At the Breakfast Club on the first floor, a staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, told Eater: “It’s not as busy as Shoreditch, but that’s not surprising. The thing is there are empty units. One closed recently. I suppose I’d have to admit that from where I live [Putney], I’d always choose to go to Shoreditch over Croydon.”

Adam Jackowski, from Croydon, runs Brgr&Beer with two other co-founders, was more optimistic. He told Eater: “Croydon is a bigger beast compared to Shoreditch or most areas of London so it was always going to be a lot of work to make Croydon Boxpark a success.

“We are very positive about how things are working at Boxpark and we’ve got a great team running it for us. It’s great being part of the ecosystem and offering something different to the norm and building on the success of Brgr&Beer.

“We have a really good relationship with senior management and are always discussing new ideas, what works, what doesn’t and how we appeal to people from Croydon and beyond. Yes, we’ve adapted our offering slightly and didn’t plan to, but that’s part of the restaurant game, no?

“Defo looking forward to working with Boxpark for the years to come.”

The regeneration of Croydon is probably more important to London than is reflected by its airtime. The place is still maligned, and its geography does it no favours. It is a transitory place that lies in between the still-appealing seaside town of Brighton, and central London. It is urban grey — but not sleek like the City, or historic like Soho.

What’s more, the much anticipated opening of a Westfield shopping centre — something Wade is not alone in thinking would do wonders for the area — is not scheduled until 2022. Development can only go so fast.

A council spokesman told Eater: “Boxpark has been a successful addition to the borough’s continuing economic growth, with its range of cuisines, vibrant atmosphere and events programme attracting more people to central Croydon.”

And the council is trying, by the way. Relief has been forthcoming. Whatever the pitfalls of the borough, there are distinct efforts to improve it.

So what to do in the meantime to up the ante: How does the microcosm that is Croydon’s economy, one built on middle-aged commuters, families and suburban residents, sustain a hipster business premise?

Wade thinks the issue of Boxpark Croydon is a direct result of the wider trend: “If they are not coming to Boxpark, they are not coming to Croydon, frankly,” he told the Advertiser. “We’re currently trying to attract people to Croydon by ourselves.

“We do need a strong Croydon for there to be a strong Boxpark. We want to see positive generation. We need a strong Croydon because we want people to come down here.”

Boxpark Croydon has now been open 18 months. Its founder said he is happy with how trading is going and expects a “long and bright future.”

This is in line with the wider ambition in the company: Boxpark Wembley is soon to open, with big names — Shake Shack and Ugly Dumpling, for example — already confirmed at the site.

As for what’s next in Croydon, well, the traders will only stick around for so long.

[This post was updated to include a statement from Boxpark CEO Roger Wade. Wade via his spokespeople had initially not responded to repeated requests for comment.]