It has been some time since I was in Lisbon and thus it was a pleasure to receive an invite to present a keynote to a conference on retail, consumption and urban governance, especially in early autumn, which is slightly more palatable in Portugal than in Scotland.
Being essentially a geography conference, there was a retail place/study trip, more of which in a future post on Part Two of this visit. On the first day I had a free afternoon and asked my hosts what to see (that wasn’t already on the study tour). Their suggestion was the Mercado da Ribeira, a 2014 regeneration scheme, at the waterfront, and which had proved a huge tourist attraction.
The Mercado building is the old (late 19th century) market hall for Lisbon. A food market occupies one part of the regenerated site. In the continuing saga of recent trips it was shut when I visited.
The main hall in the complex is occupied by/branded as Time Out Market Lisboa. This is really a glorified food hall/court but identified as distinct by the Time Out branding. The first of its kind in the world, it is a Time Out ‘curation’ of the best in Portuguese food and drink; ‘if it’s good it goes in the magazine. If it’s great it goes on to the Market’.
Now I can not assess the quality or the price of the offer (it all looked great), but it was buzzing when I was there. Most seemed to be tourists and I have read claims of between 2.1 and 3.4 million visitors per annum. The main component was food, but there were stalls with ‘Portuguese Life’ (what’s the Portuguese for hygge?) and craft themes. Events and displays also feature at set times. The slide show below presents some of the look and feel of the refurbishment and the space.
The interest for me was at least two fold. The brand extension by Time Out is fascinating. I am not sure of the detail of their involvement, especially financially, but it seems to be adding a ‘kite mark’ of quality or authenticity, borrowing from the magazine. Secondly, the curation of a Portuguese food authenticity reminded me again of Eataly. This seemed closer to the Eataly ethos than my Singaporean, Japanese example. I still yearn for our Scottish version! Whilst I recognise that not all will react positively to such concepts – citing the commodification of food culture, the lack of ‘real’ authenticity and the hyper-reality presented, there is something interesting here. In Scotland anything that stoked interest in our food, would be in my view, a good thing.
In googling around the concept, I did note that Time Out are planning more of the same in other cities and countries. It will be interesting to see how these go. They had planned a London edition to open in 2016 near Shoreditch. In March 2017 this was refused planning permission on impact grounds. So, currently you have to go to Lisbon to see one – that is not a hardship!
Part Two will look at the Avenida de Liberdade, the Chiado and historical shops of Lisbon.