How Nomad Stores Are Reshaping Neighborhoods
So-called ‘nomad stores’ are ready to open at the drop of a hat according to the demands of fast-shifting markets
Eleven years ago, east London restaurant Bistrotheque – an early frontrunner of the bare bulb/subway-tile aesthetic – opened The Reindeer in a large car park in an east London brewery. Billed as the city’s first pop-up restaurant, such was the hype that it fed more than 20,000 people in three weeks.
The financial crisis of 2008 consolidated the pop-up method as the easiest route to starting a new business during the following decade. For landlords, it was the best way to let unused space – and for retailers to take a punt without the costs of a long-term lease. But what seemed like a hip new way to shift, say, juice, was actually proof of the volatility of the high street.
With that in mind, what should we make of the latest retail neologism – the nomad store – shops that open up in any given location when the time suits?
Coined by hip London boutique Browns, its first nomad “project” opened in east London this autumn. Inside it looks cool and warehouse-y. There are concertina doors, lots of mirrors, artwork by Polly Morgan and fresh brownies. Browns describes it as “semi-permanent” yet “roaming” (a pop-up will eventually end) and a “21st-century response to the pop-up model”, which means no one knows when it will open, when it will close and what it will be. There is no formula. The shop can be dismantled in a few hours with no prior warning (although there is no plan to do so because it’s doing quite well).
The other point of the nomad store is that it is designed to reflect its location – here, the focus is on being “gender-fused”, a clunky phrase that essentially means you can have Balenciaga on a rail next to Raf Simons. It’s a sort of ambulance-chaser of gentrification. When east London falls short, the “nomad project” will move on to the next place.
Eddie Blake, senior architect at Sam Jacob Studio (who lives nearby), thinks the term is a misnomer. He says it’s “the force of capital that makes this stuff nomadic – not a romantic attachment to roaming”. Gordon Fletcher, retail expert at the University of Salford, is more sympathetic, saying they “feed into the wider trend for variety and variability … [creating] a sense of urgency that, when coupled with a consumer’s desire to be different, works”. What’s more, the unpredictability of nomad shops suggests we are “increasingly comfortable with a gig economy and the lack of permanence”, so their success is our fault.
Nomad shops like this feel more interesting than pop-ups. And with an estimated 8,000 stores closing this year, shops need to change. Becoming a nomad is simply one way.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Lead Image: On the move … Browns nomad store in east London. Photograph: Ed Reeve
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