The Millenaire mall: coping in low-growth France
By Natalie Huet
AUBERVILLIERS, France (Reuters) - In the middle of 2008, construction began on France's biggest mall project in a decade. Weeks later the U.S. credit and housing crisis slammed into Europe, and "Le Millenaire"'s promoters braced for a big hit to their hopes.
Reality was even harsher.
In 2014 neon placards gleam from the top of the completed mall in working-class Aubervilliers. But several of the names they advertise - like high-street fashion stores Desigual and OVS Industry - are no longer to be found inside. One in six of the mall's stores shut down because the shoppers failed to come.
The 140-store center, dubbed a "ghost mall" by some visitors, epitomizes the current state of France: high expectations stalled by low spending, dispirited entrepreneurs and a lack of growth prospects since GDP slumped 2.9 percent in 2009 and failed to really turn around since.
While from central Paris the beleaguered government calls on Europe to abandon its focus on austerity to boost investment and growth, Le Millenaire, in its northeastern suburb, is now targeting the only healthy retail business there is -- discount stores that appeal to cash-strapped shoppers.
Consumer spending contracted by 0.9 percent in October after falling 0.5 percent in September, constrained by unemployment stuck above 10 percent.
The future of Le Millenaire and similar projects now depends on whether President Francois Hollande can deliver on policies aimed at reviving consumer spending - for decades a key motor of growth in the euro zone's second-biggest economy.