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A 200-year-old Burlington Arcade moves with the times

Burlington Arcade celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. Drapers speaks to Jamie Reuben, managing director, about the history of the space, staying relevant and innovating for the next two centuries.

Running between London’s Piccadilly and Burlington Gardens, Burlington Arcade is renowned for its luxury offering and classical architecture. As it hits its landmark 200th year, the historical shopping destination is seeking to attract a wider mix of luxury retailers under new owners, property investor brothers Simon and David Reuben.

Designed by architect Samuel Ware and commissioned by George Cavendish, First Earl of Burlington and former owner of the adjacent Burlington House, Burlington Arcade opened in 1819 “for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand”. The covered Mayfair thoroughfare had 51 independent boutiques in 72 units, and living accommodation for the retailers on the upper level.

The arcade had the first public electric lamps in Britain and was guarded by Beadles, a private police force recruited from Cavendish’s regiment, the 10th Royal Hussars. The Beadles, now made up predominately of ex-service men, continue to wear Victorian-style uniforms, and are thought to be one of the oldest and smallest private police forces in the world.

We really liked the fact that it has smaller units. Shoppers are interested in immersive, personal experiences

In the intervening 200 years, the arcade survived numerous fires, a Blitz bombing and a grand armed robbery (see timeline below). Today it remains synonymous with its luxury heritage. The Burlington Arcade comprises 46 shops across 38,412 sq ft, including international heavyweights Chanel, Manolo Blahnik, Church’s and La Perla.

Mixed with the household names are the arcade stalwarts who have been there for decades, such as jeweller Michael Rose and the Vintage Watch Company, who bring unrivalled knowledge and personality to the space. The arcade was bought in May last year by property tycoon brothers David and Simon Reuben for £300m. The Reubens are breathing new life into the arcade in the form of more contemporary retailers – in a mix of permanent and pop-up stores – as well as introducing new food and drink partners to cement its standing as a destination for local and international shoppers alike.

Jamie reuben headshot credit indira flack crop

Jamie Reuben

Drapers speaks to Burlington Arcade’s managing director, Jamie Reuben, son of co-owner David, about preserving a piece of British retail history and innovating for future generations.

You bought the arcade last May. What appealed to you about the space?

We have UK retail interests including Eden Shopping Centre in High Wycombe, but this is the biggest retail bet we have taken. It really appealed to us as the architecture is impressive and it is completely different to other retail spaces out there.

Retail is changing. We really liked the fact that it has smaller units. Shoppers are interested in immersive, personal experiences and that’s something that the arcade delivers on. We saw an opportunity to make the most of its personality and create real experience-led retail.

What is the arcade’s USP? What makes it stand out?

Other than the architecture and the space itself, it is the retailers. We have such brilliant stalwarts here like Michael Rose and the Vintage Watch Company, which has been here for 25 years. We want to celebrate those retailers, as well as bringing in some younger brands.

We have a lot of international visitors and the weak pound has definitely boosted that

We want to curate a good mix. We need to keep our heritage while evolving and bringing a new shopper to the area. We need to keep things interesting and fun, while retaining that luxury feel.

Can you tell us about some of the more recent additions and soon-to-launch brands in the arcade?

We’ve had a mix of newcomers in the arcade, including beauty brand Code 8, which opened in February. Shoppers can build their own lipstick.

We also brought in South American men’s swimwear brand Frescobol Carioca for the summer and it is trading really well. It’s great to bring in new and different brands as pop-ups in between tenancies to mix things up, and see if we can draw a different audience into the arcade.

New brands joining in October include jewellery brand Annoushka and footwear label Mou.

We’re also missing food and beverage concepts. It is such an important part of retail now: it increases dwell time, and creates a focal point for people to come and visit. We’ll be adding some partners in the coming months.

How has the shopper visiting the arcade changed?

Footfall has increased 10% since we bought the arcade [in May 2018]. We have a lot of international visitors and the weak pound has definitely boosted that. We have a lot of Middle Eastern, Asian and US shoppers now. That has increased over the years.

Retail competition is tougher than ever. What will keep Burlington Arcade relevant for the next 200 years?

We need to keep investing and evolving. The retail mix needs to keep moving, not just in terms of fashion, but creating a social environment: an engaging retail experience. It’s not just about shopping – it’s about preserving the heritage of this iconic, luxury space, and introducing it to new customers by bringing in new retailers, and food and drink partners.

Two hundred years of Burlington Arcade

1819 Burlington Arcade opens

1836 Fire destroys units 12 to 15 and 58 to 61

1862 Whistling is banned as sex workers on the upper floors would whistle to alert pickpockets the Beadles police force were coming.

1871 Another fire destroys many shops

1879 Ownership changes to the Chesham family

1911 Cavendish’s great-great-great grandson, Lord Chesham, who inherited the arcade, extends it to include offices over the Piccadilly entrance

1926 Chesham sells the arcade out of the family. It is sold again a few months later to the London Freehold and Leasehold Property Co for £330,000

1931 The Piccadilly frontage is changed: iron railings are replaced with a wide arch, opening the entrance on to the street

1936 Another fire breaks out and many stores are looted

1937 The Burlington Gardens entrance is changed to a wide arch to match Piccadilly

1940 During the Blitz a bomb hits the junction of Burlington Gardens and Cork Street, destroying four shops at the northern entrance

1964 Six men drive into the arcade and rob the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Association of £35,000 of goods. They are never caught

2010 Thor Equities and Meyer Bergman buy the arcade for £104m. New floor and uplighting are installed

2018 David and Simon Reuben buy the arcade for £300m

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