Romford Debenhams: New shopping mall could open before Christmas
- Credit: Michael Cox
A new shopping mall is set to open at the Romford Debenhams site before Christmas.
Aklu Miah, chairman of the proposed Aklu Plaza, spoke to the Recorder about his vision for the Market Place unit.
Debenhams closed in May after being open for more than 60 years, and there had been speculation about what might take its place.
Plans for Aklu Plaza have now been unveiled, including "flagship" brand Home Superstore, which will operate on the ground floor and offer world food and household essentials.
"You've got all the big brands just minutes walk from here and the products I sell are not available in a wide range," Aklu said.
"My plan is to bring a wide range of diverse food here and bring more diverse people here who can benefit from the rest this shopping centre has to offer.
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"Everything is here on the doorstep of this building. A lot of people travel to Westfield, Lakeside, Bluewater and I want to encourage them to come to Romford, use my shop with the world foods and the other brands."
Aklu hopes to open Home Superstore before Christmas, as well as part of the first floor, which will feature around 20 to 25 outlets selling Indian clothing to jewellery and cosmetics, as well as a food court offering a range of global cuisines.
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The second floor is earmarked for homeware, as well as a children's play area and prayer room.
Aklu said he is going through the planning process to get permission to use the third floor for events such as weddings and conferences as well as a banqueting hall.
He revealed the availability of Debenhams spurred the decision to create Aklu Plaza.
"Something like Debenhams doesn't go away every day. Because of Covid, there aren't many people who want such a massive retail area.
"When I took it, some of my friends thought I was a bit crazy but what can I say? You have to gamble in life. I took a gamble and I want to try it out and I hope the whole community supports me.
"It's a passion. I don't really need to do this. I have enough to sustain myself. This is because I have been doing it from when I was a little boy. That's why I have this passion inside of me."
Aklu has lived in Shadwell since he was six and said he has "fallen in love" with the place.
According to the Aklu Plaza website, his family launched Shadwell Grocers in 1987.
Aklu established Mas Bazar, which launched in Shadwell in 2004, and in 2007 his brother Hassan founded Kacha Bazar, which has a branch called Food Bazar London at Beckton Retail Park selling fresh fruit and vegetables.
Aklu said the plaza aims to "bring all our brands under one roof".
He told the Recorder: "I have been a shopkeeper for 37 years and I have certain products and certain communities like my products.
"So the aim is to give them a better choice. My view of Romford is I think it will give Romford a boost.
"There are quite a lot of shops that are empty so I reckon if this works, I don't think any of the shops will be empty."
Romford Business Improvement District (BID) director Julie Frost felt the shopping mall plans represent a "significant vote of confidence" in the town.
She said: "There exists the potential for this new enterprise to help to drive additional footfall into the BID area.
"However, there remains a very real risk that the highly specialised nature of the offering could find only a limited uptake in an area in which the principal cultural market is extremely limited.
"We shall have to wait and see."
Aklu said he had no concerns about attracting people to visit.
"Why wouldn't the community come here? If I have a product you can use and have the quality, freshness and price, why not?
"We specialise in products Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda don't really specialise in. I hope it works and everybody likes it. I don't want one community liking it and the next hating it. I want everybody to like this."
The plaza aims to create around 150 jobs and Aklu hopes to fill these with local applicants.
Once the first phase opens, Aklu hopes to finish the first floor and move onto the second floor early next year.