Clarks Village

Clarks Village in Street, Somerset

Clarks Village in Street, Somerset

Clarks Village in Street, Somerset, is a fascinating example of innovative reuse and revitalisation. Established in 1993, it was the UK’s first outlet shopping centre, transforming the site of old C&J Clark factory buildings into a retail haven.

The origins of Clarks Village trace back to the 19th century, when Cyrus Clark began a business in sheepskin rugs. The Clark family’s connection with shoemaking deeply influenced the development of the town of Street. John Clothier, the managing director of C&J Clark International and son of the factory’s founder, played a pivotal role in the creation of Clarks Village. Faced with the impending closure of the factory in the early 1990s, he was inspired to transform the site rather than see it fall into disrepair.

John’s exposure to American shopping outlets during his business travels in the States laid the groundwork for this transformation. The concept of an outlet shopping centre was novel in Britain at the time. Taking a risk, John spearheaded the project, which involved considerable investment. Remarkably, a significant portion of the funding came from the sale of a £2.1m bronze Henry Moore sculpture, ‘Sheep Piece’, which had been exhibited at the Clarks factory.

The construction of Clarks Village was speculative, as no other standalone shopping outlet had been built in Britain before. It began without a single store, apart from Clarks, signed up. Yet, by its opening on August 14, 1993, the village was fully tenanted, housing about 18 stores and creating 300 jobs. This success was due in part to the flexible, performance-based tenancies offered to retailers, a novel approach at the time.

From its inception, Clarks Village aimed to be more than just a shopping destination. It was designed to revitalise the town of Street, providing employment and anchoring the community. The emphasis was not only on attracting local shoppers but also on appealing to a broader market, with many people visiting to enjoy a day out or as part of their holiday.

Over the years, Clarks Village has evolved significantly. It now boasts over 90 brands across more than 200,000 square feet of retail space, spread over 24 acres. It employs more than 900 staff, and its influence on the outlet shopping model is nationally recognised. The ethos of the development, focused on outdoor malls and landscaping to provide a relaxed shopping experience, continues to this day. There’s a constant effort to innovate and refresh the mix of brands, maintaining a lively and engaging atmosphere for visitors.

John Clothier, reflecting on the journey of Clarks Village, takes pride in its evolution and the role it has played in the community. He continues to shop there, enjoying the anonymity and observing the ongoing evolution of his creation, which he considers his “tombstone”.

Clarks Village stands as a testament to vision and adaptability, transforming a potential site of decay into a thriving, vibrant community landmark that continues to adapt and evolve with the times.

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