Lessons from New York …

I know it was a holiday – but I think we can learn so much from New York. It’s a constantly fascinating place that evolves every time you visit.


This time my head was still full of the Grimsey Report; how are we going to change what we do so that we don’t watch the High Street die.

New York has some key differences to us here in the UK. Firstly there’s a lot of bodies. The population of Manhattan is 1.6m – but this nearly doubles on each workday by commuters. 3.1m people all looking for lunch! Then there are the 50m visitors annually. There aren’t Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. There are multiples (Walmart – who own Boots for example).

But why does it work? I sense several themes:

1. It evolves. It is constantly changing. Shops come and go. They move with fashion. Neighbourhoods change. It’s not unusual to go back to an area and there have been a whole raft of new shops. The proposition that position is fixed seems not to exist in the same way as it does in the UK.

2. It oozes confidence. There aren’t ’empty shops’ – there are shops waiting for a new tenant to move in and try their hand. There’s a ‘give it a go’ attitude.

3. The indies win. So often you come across a new shop or shops. And they develop a following. The Blue Bottle Coffee shop in Chelsea was superb. And the Dominique Ansel Bakery have invented the CroNut – a cross between a Donut and a Croissant. They queue early. This doesn’t do it for me – by midday they have sold out!

4. Experiment. There is an ‘inventors’ mentality. Try it – at SuperPier they have a heap of the ubiquitous ship containers. Not unique in themselves what was unique was the event programme. Free food (which they had rescued) one night we were there! It was a bit like Re:Fest! Anarchic and chaotic!

5. Make it unique. The Marc Jacobs shop on Bleeker Street were selling T-Shirts for $30 – and they were professionally sprayed for you – with your own message on a number of pre-set designs. They queued (and watched!!)

6. Quality Food. Unlike my meal on the flight over (Mr Branson your Beef cattle had been fed deep fried mars bars methinks), the food in New York is rarely anything other than good. They do eating and drinking well. Eating and drinking is made easy.

These are not the panacea to all of our problems – but there is some much energy in NYC. Arriving back in Nottingham on a damp wet ‘Fall’ day sets the challenge!

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