Serge Wilmes as seen here in a November 2019 archive photo Photo: Marc Blasius / Maison Modern
In light of recent Luxembourg City shop closures, Delano caught up with deputy mayor Serge Wilmes (CSV) to hear more about the complexity of retail in the centre.
Made in Luxembourg label Yileste announced on Monday it will be closing its doors, and the owners didn’t mince words with the reason, citing the “delivery zone 80 cm in front of the shop entrance”.
And last week, the Fellner Louvigny shop announced it will be closing in August, albeit with a slightly different tone, stating it was a combination of factors, including changing consumer patterns, and that “together with the City of Luxembourg…asked ourselves how to improve the situation, influence the flow of pedestrian traffic”.
Deputy mayor Serge Wilmes (CSV) agrees consumer patterns are changing and recognises the competition smaller shops might have from online shops or malls outside the centre. But he says the situation in the city is “very complex”, adding that he empathises with shopowners “because they take a huge personal risk, and when they have to close their shop, it’s always a personal disaster… But it’s too easy to blame one actor, it’s too easy to blame just the City. We are perhaps responsible for the framework, but we are not responsible for the business itself.”
Of course, more or less within the same timeframe, a range of other nearby shops, including concept, collab and popup spaces, and restaurants have also opened their doors--Bazaar, The Modu Shop, Wanderscheid, Hels1nk1 and RR Interior (which opened a pop-up shop in the city just on Wednesday, in addition to its 2017-established site in Strassen), to name just a few. Some spaces have used creative marketing through social media or special events to get customers through their doors, in spite of the construction works at Hamilius, the Knuedler and elsewhere.
“Even shops that are mostly touched by construction sites, there are shopowners [who] say it’s not the same traffic as before, but [they] still do a lot of advertising and social media to attract people to the shop. For them, it’s still possible to survive.”
If he had a choice, Wilmes says he’d like to see a mix of both small and large retail. “We still have this mix, perhaps it’s not the same as 20 years ago,” he adds. “We still have small shops here in the city centre, we have larger shops and also franchises. It’s a free market and it’s up to the market and consumers to decide what kind of mix we have.”
Tacking pedestrian flows, construction
Wilmes says the City has taken several initiatives to increase activities along the lesser frequented areas, which could help attract passers-by into shops. Take the Place du Théâtre, for example, which last summer was transformed into a beach and chillout zone. Plans are also underway to transform the Place Guillaume II by 2023, and there are plans to completely remove the taxi stand on rue Notre Dame to install terraces and benches for people to enjoy the outdoors in the warmer months.
This springtime—although Wilmes could not yet give Delano a precise date—a nature-themed project is being planned along the areas of rue Notre Dame, rue Louvigny and rue Philippe II to encourage more pedestrian flow. “Together with shopowners, we are working on a project to make it more attractive.”
He said they’ve also asked the government to make available the courtyard of the former Athenée, off the rue Notre Dame, for children’s activities. “It’s part of a global plan to really animate this whole area, next to the town hall.”
In May through October of last year, the City also had Quest carry out an extensive quantitative survey in which around 1,000 people in the centre and 1,000 in the Gare district were asked about their shopping habits, the conclusions of which were anticipated for release by end-March but “we don't know with the coronavirus if it is the right moment now.” Although Wilmes would not reveal details in advance, he did say “we should not be too pessimistic, we could even be optimistic, because there are still customers and they are also ready to spend money,” though he admits the conclusions do not take into consideration the tram works in November and later, which likely would have had an effect at least on the results in the Gare area.
The other part of the survey was more qualitative and involved asking some 35 shopkeepers from varying neighbourhoods the differences of their experiences compared to those in the central zone. From this “we can perhaps develop best practices or share experiences so those who have shops in the city centre can learn from the people who have a shop in the neighbourhood...in the neighbourhood, there is not this natural pedestrian flow, so they have to be very innovative and creative to attract people to their shops in order to survive.”
And what about that 80cm zone Yileste referred to? Wilmes said for starters, “there was full transparency on what constructions were planned” and “there's always meetings before the construction works start and even after this they always have the possibility to get in touch with one of the médiateurs de chantier and ask them all the questions to tackle their needs.” He added that alternative delivery zones had been considered but ultimately the main restaurant delivery supplier needed a zone in the area. "We really tried to change something about that and we looked for alternative locations...or to relocate the zone, but it was not possible because in this part of the city there are a lot of restaurants."