IN DUBBING their venture the 'Harrods of the South East' the men behind the new Croydon Village Outlet seem confident their store will add to the town's retail landscape. Ahead of its opening on Thursday chief reporter Gareth Davies looks at how the Outlet aims to fill Croydon's Allders-shaped gap...... ASKED if he thinks Westfield will deliver its £1 billion retail transformation by 2017, Marco Cash famously told us: "I will show my a**e on the town hall steps if that happens." We won't know for a while if we'll be seeing Mr Cash's gluteus maximus in all its naked glory but, for now, at least his own venture will be delivered on time. The Croydon Village Outlet is set to open on Thursday morning (September 19) promising 500,000 sq ft of retail space selling big-name, designer brands. The entrepreneurs behind the scheme have made some pretty bold claims – not least that the outlet will create 500 new jobs – but Mr Cash is convinced they can back up with their rhetoric with results. He told the Advertiser: "We've been massively busy. There's ten articulated lorries of stock arriving each day. It's hugely exciting. There's a real buzz here. "We have 180 different companies putting this together. So you can liken it with the NEC Motorshow then two days later it's the garden show, than it's another big event. It's coming together beautifully and extraordinarily quickly. "We're oversubscribed. We have a queue now, a waiting list. It's amazing how it has happened." Mr Cash said he was particularly "excited" by the Outlet's food hall. He added: "The real eclectic mix will make it a special place to go. It will be a real destination. "It's beautiful, it's rustic, it's artisan. It will be a wonderful place to have a dalliance round." Mr Cash had hoped the centrepiece of the food hall would be a chocolate replica of the Allders building. However the Belgian chocolatier tasked with creating the model decided it was too intricate to create within the timeframe, so has made Tower Bridge instead. Christmas "Before Christmas we will have a huge chocolate Allders," Mr Cash promised. "We are London's first – Britain's biggest – outlet. We're almost three times the size of Bicester Village and we're two times bigger than our nearest rival which is Cheshire Oaks. This is quite a landmark for retailing in Britain, never mind Croydon." Suhail Hanif, another of the men behind the new store, claimed the outlet would create "London's first genuine designer outlet department store". He said: "In past years Croydon has been haemorrhaging shoppers and stores to Bromley, Sutton and Kingston. "We want to put Croydon back as the top retail choice in the south east." Mr Hanif, who previously worked as a senior executive at Allders – which closed in September 2012 after 150 years in Croydon – says he wants to recreate the golden era of the department store. "I remember when Allders was the Harrods of the South East – it had the biggest range, the biggest sales, the biggest draw," he said. "And when it closed, I remember people in tears – not just because they had lost their jobs, but because they had lost a part of their lives; people had worked here all their lives, met family here, grown up here. "We want to see that buzz come back by creating a retail experience which is so exciting and powerful it can once again draw shoppers from across the region." The link with Allders stretches to the outlet's staff. HR manager Rosaleen Liard, herself a former Allders employee, said new recruits included one man who was previously Allders' longest-serving employee, with more than 42 years' service, but who hadn't worked since the store's closure. "We have others with 30-plus years service with the old Allders business who again were not able to secure employment until now," she said. "We have a very diverse mix of staff bringing a number of skills who include those starting work for the first time. Question marks surround the shelf-life of the new store, with Westfield likely to earmark John Lewis as the key part of its much-heralded revamp. This is due to be completed within four years, despite Mr Cash's bare-bottomed protestations. But Mr Hanif says Croydon needs a boost now – not then – and is happy to let the future take its course. He added: "The new Westfield/Hammerson development will be great. "But it is five years' away and the small traders and the unemployed need something to stimulate the local economy now."
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