LONDON — When the Eurostar switched its terminus here from Waterloo to St. Pancras International earlier this month, Mayfair inched a little closer to Avenue Montaigne.
As well as shaving an average of 20 minutes off Eurostar journey times from London to Paris; Lille, France, and Brussels, the move represents a tectonic shift for railway retailing and services in the U.K., which often have been centered on coffee shops and bookstores.
A landmark building, St. Pancras station has been completely overhauled to accommodate international train services, and to make shopping and dining as central to the travel experience as packing. Officially unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II, the station features 60 shops, including retail spaces for The Body Shop, Fossil and Thomas Pink, and hospitality areas, such as a 90-meter Champagne bar and a gastro pub.
The station launched Eurostar services on Nov. 14.
"It's a transport hub like no other. [We're] setting a benchmark," said Mike Luddy, project director at London & Continental Railways Ltd., the company responsible for the refurbishment. He added that the idea behind the station's restoration, which cost 800 million pounds, or $1.67 billion at current exchange, was to attract local as well as traveling clientele.
"Our model depends on people viewing St. Pancras as a destination that they want to go to," he said.
The station, which was originally opened in 1868 and features an iconic Victorian Gothic facade, was redesigned to offer shopping and dining facilities both for international travelers using the Eurostar and local commuters using the station's train links and Underground (subway) connections. More than 43 million customers are expected to visit the station annually.
Luddy noted that screens displaying departure times and travel information are in shops, so rather than waiting nervously by departure boards, travelers feel more inclined to browse and spend. Station staff members also are equipped with handheld devices in order to better respond to customer queries, and touch-screen maps help orientate passengers.
"[When] we put the customer at ease, [so] they feel safe and comfortable and they can get around the station, [they] start to enjoy the other facilities," said Luddy, adding that he was inspired by New York City's Grand Central Terminal when working on plans for St. Pancras.Since it is a transport hub, however, and time is of the essence, a replica of the station's original clock takes center stage. The station's vast glass ceiling is another focal point, as is a statue by sculptor Paul Day of a couple embracing, dubbed "The Meeting."
The Arcade, an area on the undercroft level, was conceived with long-haul and time-rich travelers in mind.
Since security check-in capacity has been stepped up, international passengers are called to go through security later, allowing them more time to shop in stores including L.K. Bennett, Hamleys and Thomas Pink, as well as Rituals, a treatment brand, and restaurants with a Continental bent.
For time-poor commuters and those rushing to make the Eurostar, The Circle area offers quick retail and food fixes, with Boots the Chemists, Marks & Spencer, Monsoon apparel and La Senza lingerie among brands present.
"It's where you can stop if you're on the move and have only 10 minutes to spare," said Luddy. The floor also features a market offering fresh produce as well as gifts and handicrafts.
One floor up at platform level, Luddy focused on luxury lounging with Europe's longest Champagne bar, which runs alongside Eurostar platforms; St. Pancras Brasserie, and The Betjeman Arms, a gastro pub named for poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, who campaigned to protect the building in the Sixties.
"[We created] a hospitality zone to attract people from all around London," he said, "whether they're traveling or not."
"It [is] a very, very attractive proposition day and night," said Edward Whitefield, chairman of London-based consultancy MHE Retail. "The provision of leisure, entertainment and dining...help to make it a destination in the evening, while it [is] a destination during the day for shopping."
St. Pancras is located in King's Cross in northeast London, a down-at-the-heels neighborhood that is currently undergoing a regeneration.
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