Transformation in retail is one thing. But how about a regeneration of an entire town’s retail fortunes? That’s the challenge facing Faro right now.
The capital of Portugal’s Algarve once boasted a charming old town and harbour. But lately, tourists are more likely to spot boarded-up buildings, small and shabby bars and restaurants and prolific graffiti. The property boom of the 2000s brought in a massive tourism influx, ably aided by the then-new low-cost airlines opening up the region as the go-to destination. Then came the global economic crisis that bred severe local debt, and subsequent austerity.
Fast forward ten years and the town is undergoing a mini metamorphosis. The most recent retail development has opened within the last 12 months. Designed, developed, and managed by IKEA Centres, it is a large out-of-town development that includes three separate destinations: a full-scale IKEA store, Mar Shopping Centre and the Algarve Designer Outlet.
The good: the IKEA is huge, and likely to serve the local community of new villas, apartments and developments well. Other notable shops in the development include a superb Primark. The bad: it’s somewhat disappointing that the biggest new development in the region is so corporate, and unlikely to do too much to restore the town’s former picturesque glory. And the ugly? Well, while the development brings money, the promise of jobs and an increase in growth and tourism, it is not going to prove a friend to other local commercial centres. One big development could mean the demise of other, smaller ones.
Against such might, and money, and connections…. how can the charming old town survive? The challenge to Faro, as a town, is to recover prosperity and preserve its integrity. The challenge to mega brand players that can bring their new money and weighty influence to town is to act with responsibility to the whole society, and not simply to serve their own corporate interests. Retail is more than commercial: it’s societal. If one part of the community feels marginalised they’re unlikely to become fans.
Watch this space…