â€ś How many times have you heard a shopping centre call itself Â‘More than a shopping centre?Â’ In the case of Manufaktura, for once the hyperbole is entirely justified. For this is indeed more than a shopping centre. In fact, we really shouldnÂ’t be calling it a shopping centre at all. Covering a space of 150,000m2 Manufaktura does of course feature a mall, but that would not tell the full story. Put simply this is a city within a city, and the brave face of New ŁĂłdź. â€ž
MANUFAKTURA? WHAT IS THIS?
The billboards read Â“Manufaktura: a new shopping and leisure experience in PolandÂ”. (And, yes there are billboards in English!).
IÂ’m going to take a guess and assume that nobody actually reading this has heard of, let alone visited, Manufaktura. Situated in the heart of - no correct that, this IS now the heart of - Lodz, PolandÂ’s second city, Manufaktura is a retail and leisure complex, but with an interesting and fascinating difference.
This is not the appropriate place to discuss Lodz and its history, that will, I hope, be covered in a following review, suffice to say here that this site is actually pivotal in both the cityÂ’s past and, they would hope, in itsÂ’ all important future. Staying in, and visiting the rest of the city, which frankly is in an appallingly run down state, Manufaktura has a big responsibility on its shouldersÂ…...
Â…Â…so big indeed that that the (French) ownerÂ’s tag line reads: Â“Manufaktura Â– Drives LodzÂ”.
You may well notice that I, and indeed the developers themselves, have avoided using the term Â“shopping centreÂ” here; to call it thus would be doing this fascinating complex a gross injustice.
Back to the promotional blurb for a moment, and in a nutshell, the Manufaktura complex contains 306 shops, restaurants and pubs, cinema and 3D I-Max, and 3.5 hectares of Market Square with dancing fountains.
It actually fails to mention a small but fascinating Â“Museum of the FactoryÂ” located adjacent to the cinema complex.
MANUFAKTURA? ODD NAME FOR A SHOPPING AND RETAIL DEVELOPMENT! THE HISTORY.
Lodz is a city steeped in history, some ancient, much however in living memory thanks to events there during the Second World War. However, it is the cityÂ’s close similarities to Manchester that bring us to the subject of this review Â– the clue of which is in the title!
Driving, for the very first time, around the centre of Lodz, at night as it happened, I could not help feeling an overwhelming sense of dĂ©jĂ vu. That particularly applies when you arrive at Manufactura, the architecture of which is so like the industrial mill buildings of Northern England, particularly the vast red brick cotton mills of Manchester and itsÂ’ environs. Lodz was founded, and made its short lived fortunes, on the weaving of cloth Â– in huge mechanised factories, patterned entirely on those of the Lancashire mill towns.
This large, factory, complex was originally developed by Izrael K. Poznanski, a nineteenth century Jewish merchant who made himself incredibly wealthy from the cotton spinning trade. The beginnings of this city centre industrial site lay in 1852 when the first cloth was spun here, it reached its current size and form around 1910, a decade after PoznanskiÂ’s death, at which time over 6000 employees worked here.
A century later I would be surprised if one tenth of that number are employed here, although the site receives rather more visitors now than it did then!
The history of the intervening years is a sad and turbulent one. Two World Wars, the decline of Poland and decades under communist rule all contributed to this and many other sites falling into a rapid state of total dereliction Â– way beyond the economic financial repair and regeneration of the Polish authorities of the twenty first century.
The buildings, as they are now, were developed as a series of textile factories by the Poznanski family. Rather like the mill and mine owners of this country, they developed a whole infrastructure around their businesses, from staff welfare (company doctors, a hospital, dentists etc) to services, such as the private fire brigade housed in the impressive fire station, dead centre of the site.
As in the North of England, the decline in the textile trade was terminal as far as both Lodz and, in turn, Manufaktura were concerned. In 1997 the last textile worker left the site Â– walking away from a huge derelict wreck.
From my observations in the rest of the city centre, the appearance and condition of the buildings here would, at that time, have been totally in character. It was going to take more vision and, importantly, finance than the City of Lodz, or even Poland itself possessed to regenerate this redundant, but historic, site.
In 2000 French developer, Apsys, purchased the whole site. After three years in the planning, it took a further three years to almost completely re-build the factory complex and create an ultra-modern shopping centre enclosing the eastern end of the site.
Manufaktura, in its present form, was officially opened on 17th May 2006.
FANCY FINDING RICHADA IN A PLACE LIKE THIS!
Everyone, resident or not, that I have spoken to about this city has something bad to say about it Â– Lodz has the worst reputation for crime and degradation in the whole of Poland.
You may well be wondering just what your intrepid reviewer is doing wandering around a place like this, in Lodz, central Poland after eight in the evening! A long story that, but we were being hosted by my wifeÂ’s best friend and her sister, who are residents of this city.
They know me well, but not well enough to realise that I would probably be more interested in the history of manufacturing here and indeed the Lodz Ghetto, which I suspect is the reason that many of you would have heard of this powerfully evocative city. They were justifiably proud of Manufaktura and as residents wanted to show off their greatest asset, I was expecting a shopping centre and politely kept quiet when it was made the first stop on our city sightseeing itinerary.
As it turned out I was in for a treat, the review that follows will attempt to sum up our experiences, by night and the following day, in this fascinating development, which as I was to discover, really does manage to offer something for everyone.
THIS IS POLAND Â– DONÂ’T LET YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS PUT YOU OFF!
Being directed through the run down streets of the city centre, onesÂ’ expectations are not terribly high upon arrival at Manufaktura. Kasia, my wifeÂ’s best friend, directs us into a free car park approached between two (still) derelict factory buildings Â– creepy at night with all those shadows through the broken windows! We park next to a new Honda Civic Â– being the person I am, it immediately strikes me that, here in this car park, there are a disproportionate number of Â“decentÂ” cars. Most Poles, if they have a car at all, either drive an ancient banger, or a tiny economy car. Here the car park was little different to Bluewater or the Trafford Centre in the quality of vehicles parked in it.
Success for the French developer and City of Lodz then, obviously this site is attracting the, albeit small sector of, upwardly mobile in Polish societyÂ…Â….
The four of us walk across the car park in order to take a smart mirrored lift down one storey to the square below. Accompanying Asia (KasiaÂ’s sister), my eyes are unavoidably drawn to the row of approximately eight to ten men standing urinating on the side of the car park. The girls do not bat an eye lid at this behaviour; I ask Asia Â– a business studies graduate of Lodz University Â– Â“is this normal behaviour here?Â”
Â“Yes, and itÂ’s a problem. There are toilets provided, free of charge, around the site, but, for whatever reason, they simply will not use them. There have been many complaints.Â”
Not the best first impression I think you would agree!
Stepping out of the lift and into the vast (30,000 sq. metre) open Â“squareÂ” (more of a Â“PÂ” shape from above) your breath is taken away. The architects and builders have done a superb job on this site. Looking up, you realise that the front of the car park is an entire wall of one of the factory buildings. As many of the facades as possible have been kept here.
Due to the superb lighting, by night is probably the best way to appreciate this Â“city within a cityÂ” Â– it really does come alive. This is no doubt enhanced by the many cafes and restaurants, some of which spill out onto the square, in some respects this cosmopolitan atmosphere feels not entirely unlike the centre of our own city Â– Brighton.
In front of us, still not having moved from the area in front of the car park lift, stretches EuropeÂ’s longest fountain, which should probably be more accurately described as a water feature. Designed by a Spaniard, by the rather appropriate name of Ghesa, the fountain is 300 metres long. At 10.00pm multicoloured illuminations light up the whole length of it creating a unique spectacle.
SOME SERIOUS RETAIL THERAPY
I, probably as a typical man, have fairly strong views on shopping as a pastime, therapy or any other form of relaxation! Most shopping centres are just that Â– buildings in which retailers peddle their wares. I am not here to tell you any differently about this one, naturally the commercial core of Manufaktura is its modern shopping centre.
However, I am a businessman, realist and, I like to think, conservationist; one has no choice but to acknowledge that without the shopping centre here generating retail sales Â– i.e. money - then the rest of this project, economically, simply could not have happened.
It is Saturday evening (2nd June, 2007), at about 8.30pm, we enter the two storey glass fronted shopping centre. All the shops are still open and will be until 10.00 or 11.00pm. There are lots of teenage Poles milling around at the front of the centre - it is obviously the Â“coolÂ” place to hang out and meet. Step back into the shopping area proper Â– built in a triangular shape a little like Bluewater, but not so big, and you are struck by the dozens and dozens of empty shops. I cannot imagine so many bored looking shop assistants in an English shopping centre at any time of the day or evening.
Comfortable shopping? Oh yes indeed! Generating wealth for the city of Lodge Â– not that evening it wasnÂ’t. I found this a little worrying, if after a year it has not sustained interest in the retail side, then in another year or two history could repeat itself at Manufaktura Â– bust following boom, if there actually has been any boom here over the last twelve months.
Worryingly, it has since occurred to me that it may be the simple economic truth that there is not enough wealth in Lodz to support this type of retail development.
None of you reading this would feel alien inside the shopping centre at Manufaktura, although international in character, to me it felt comfortingly Â“BritishÂ”. Good Lord, there is even a large branch of C&A there Â– it has been a while since they have been on the high street in England! The majority of the shops you would be quite familiar with, I am not going to list them all, but Hugo Boss, Hilfiger, Timberland and H&M will start to give you the pictureÂ…Â…
Â…Â…and there lays the problem, there are some Poles that can afford such shops, but the vast majority cannot. Even with the great asset of the rest of the Manufaktura complex surrounding it, this venture will be unable to pull in high spending tourists from abroad due to the reputation of the rest of the city.
However this review is about the here and now Â– our recent experiences, and right now, this is a bright, modern shopping centre in which you can shop at leisure in a very un-crowded atmosphere.
MANUFAKTURA NIGHTLIFE & CULTURAL CENTRE
Most tastes are catered for here, although worryingly, for me as a tourist, there is very little of a traditional Polish flavour here. We did not actually eat or drink within the complex, but knowing my preference for Â“Polish authenticÂ”, our hosts were keen to go to another part of the city for a jazz club Â– and indeed to eat the following day.
During our two visits to Manufaktura we gained the impression that the flavours of the world were very much on offer here, from a very ritzy Â– and expensive Â– French restaurant, through several Italian restaurants and pizzerias to a Japanese cafĂ© bar under a gazebo. Regrettably fast food is also provided by KFC and McDonalds, the latter seemingly even more popular in Poland than here.
Pubs and clubs abound here too, many of which may actually be familiar if you have visited Warsaw, Krakow or Zakapane Â– only the profitable chain type establishments can afford to set up here it would seem.
Once again, on this summer Saturday night, none of these establishments looked over busy, indeed most people here, like us, just seemed to be milling about.
The large square is used for temporary attractions Â– last summer a sandy Â“beechÂ” was set up there, through the winter an ice rink took its place. Often there is a large outdoor stage; the evening that we were there an outdoor charity concert was taking place.
Above the stage there is a huge Philips television screen mounted on the side of one of the factory buildings. When not covering events in the square, it appears to play pop videos and adverts. Strangely, in Poland, a country where many are seemingly obsessed with TV, very few people seemed to be paying it any attention!
A large hall next to the shopping centre plays host to temporary exhibitions, whilst adjacent to it is Cinema City, boasting 15 screens including the 3D Imax. This is fronted by a large bowling alley and disco.
My eyes however kept coming back to the history of the site, this is what makes this, in my opinion at least, such a very clever development. If you are on foot in Lodz, you may well enter, or as we did, leave, the Manufaktura site via the impressive Poznanski Gate. Very obviously part of the original complex Â– it appears in all the old photographs of this site, this is the very gate through which those 6000 workers filed each day.
Attached to the western side of this gate, and overlooking the Manufaktura site itself is Mr PoznaskiÂ’s fabulous palace. Strictly speaking not within the remit of this review, it does however very clearly illustrate the fortunes past generated by this very complex.
THE Â“HUMAN SIDEÂ” OF MANUFAKTURA
I was not initially going to put this section into the review, but without people to staff, run and clean all of those shops, bars and leisure attractions, none of this could happen.
Already touched upon was the original owners Â“cradle to the graveÂ” welfare approach to his employees. Working conditions in the cotton mills may have been hard and dangerous, but the PoznaskiÂ’s were known in the area as fair and relatively well paying employers. Manufaktura, was a place where ordinary Poles could find work. In a sense the communist years, whilst administered centrally, continued this approach to welfare. Once both the cotton mills and communism were expunged from the Lodz economy there was little of any substance left, unemployment was (and still is) rife and the city fell rapidly into the derelict state that much of it remains in to this day.
As Asia explained, one of the worst areas of housing in the entire city is immediately opposite the Manufaktura site. These were the tenement blocks, originally modern comfortable apartments, built by Poznaski at the turn of the last century, to house, literally on the doorstep, 4000 of his employees.
Placing a multi billion pound development right next to the worst slum in the city was sure to cause problems Â– especially with the large number of unemployed people living in very poor conditions.
The university was approached for ideas about what to do with this all too obvious Â“social problemÂ”. The inevitable, and really quite obvious, answer is to offer them first refusal on the jobs. This in itself is easier said than done, offering the jobs is easy, getting the long term unemployed firstly to take them up and then re-training to do work totally alien to them is not. Add to this that the hours at Manufaktura are long, shop pay is poor, and from what Asia told me, working conditions there have a very poor reputation, then all in all it is not a place to work because people actually want to.
Did they actually WANT to work in the cotton mills though? I think not.
I have recently heard discussions on television here about poor service in shops Â– those complaining should try retail therapy Polish style! Here at Manufaktura you may have a brightly lit, modern shopping centre Â– but fill it with reluctant, poorly paid and treated staff and you build in a good reason for tourists not repeating their visit here.
Indeed, all of this may have quite a lot to do with those men urinating in full view on the car park, it does not pardon what they do, but possibly goes some way to explaining why they do it.
WHAT OF THE FUTURE?
Manufaktura undoubtedly is THE place to hang out in Lodz, unlike the rest of the city it feels entirely safe to walk about in Â– by day or night. Unusually in my experience, by Polish standards, the whole complex is well lit, this obviously adds to the sense of safety.
Being so very new, the toilets, stairs and lifts are all in good, clean, condition. Around the site there is still plenty of development going on. The derelict factory buildings behind the car park are currently being converted into a three star hotel and conference centre. Looking at the state of the rest of the hotels in this city, I would be inclined to recommend this one before it is even built!
For me at least, part of the beauty of this place Â– and the word beauty is not out of place there Â– is that whilst so much of the Manufaktura factory complex has been restored, there are still totally derelict factory buildings here, which have their own poignant beauty, as indeed my friend Asia pointed out as I posed for her in front of one of them.
I enjoyed my experiences here and will look forward in future years to returning in order to see if Manufaktura can actually achieve its lofty ambition in driving Lodz forward to a more prosperous future. As with all cities fallen from previous grace, re-generation has to start somewhere; this is a fantastic start, but without pulling in more shoppers, wealthy ones at that, than it does now, I remain pessimistic of the Â“retail revolutionÂ” that is Manufaktura, rescuing this city from its current state of decrepitude.