Melville’s 27Boxes offers a fresh new take on retail therapy

Private Property South Africa
Jackie Gray-Parker

A new retail space made entirely from shipping containers has rejuvenated Faan Smit Park in Melville, Johannesburg.

Although modern shopping centres serve a very real purpose, they all seem to have one thing in common. They’re all rather clinical and formulaic. 27Boxes in Melville offers a fresh new take on retail therapy.

Located at 75, 3rd Avenue in Melville, 27Boxes is built entirely from shipping containers and is the first of its kind in South Africa. The concept is modelled after ‘Boxpark’ in London and the George Pompidou Centre in Paris which have met with great success.

The ‘mall’ is situated in Faan Smit Park which up until 27Boxes came along, was avoided by local residents due to the fact that it had become a hub for ‘undesirables’. Property management company Citiq which has earned a reputation for its innovative developments is the brainchild behind 27Boxes.

Containers are not the most aesthetically appealing objects so it could have been quite easy for 27Boxes to become an ugly blot on Melville’s landscape. Fortunately, the mall has been thoughtfully laid out and is characterised by a surprisingly harmonious industrial aesthetic. It’s also partially open to the elements and is surrounded by park-like surrounds and an open-air amphitheatre which makes for a nice change from the usual sterile mall feel. On either side of the development lie quaint properties as well as a number of Melville’s popular bohemian styled shops and eateries.

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Eco-friendly

Recycling and upcycling are evident throughout the mall. Apart from the obvious re-purposing in the form of the containers, other elements feature recycled material too, such as the pathway which is made from salvaged building material and the garden planters made out of pallets.

Many of the shops are environmentally friendly or organically inclined too. A few of the shops under this banner include herbalists SunMoonSeed; Urban Gardener; Yivani Naturals which sells natural cosmetics; Stadstal, a large organic produce shop; Ritual Food Bar which specialises in vegetarian and vegan cuisine and Organic2Go which offers delightful organic, vegan, vegetarian and banting friendly picnic hampers to go. At FlipFlop55’’s you’ll find recycled, customisable flip flops.

Franchise-free

Apart from STA Travel and one or two ATM’s you’ll be hard pushed to find anything resembling a franchised outlet at 27Boxes, and therein lies part of its appeal. Other shops which have taken up residence either permanently or on a pop-up basis include Paul’s Homemade Ice-cream, Suga Plum Sweets & Treats, Stop Sign Art Gallery, Jozi Juice Bar, Rae Interiors, Camilla’s Macaroon’s (the chocolate macaroons are divine) Thyme to Dine, The Rooster Art Gallery, Inappropriate Décor, Hunter Cycling, Flashmob Lifestyle Emporium, Prawn Stars, The Goat Jewellery and Toe Porn, to name but a few. In total 27Boxes offers 100 container stores.

Versatility ideal for small retailers

Another standout characteristic of 27Boxes is that the tenants can go as big or as small as they want. Shop sizes range from half a container to several linked containers which have been opened up to create large spaces. Many of the containers open on both ends too which creates a feeling of openness and accessibility. According to Govan Reddy of Rubi Roastery (which makes a mean cup of freshly roasted coffee) the low-cost nature of the mall’s construction, and large range of sizes makes the mall particularly attractive for entrepreneurial start-ups which ordinarily would not have been able to afford the high rents typically associated with traditional malls.

Citiq’s decision to develop 27Boxes in the heart of Melville is also laudable. The suburb’s reputation took a knock in recent years due to crime and a somewhat raucous student element which took hold. Students still frequent the area to a degree but much of the criminal element seems to have been stamped out and the area looks a lot cleaner than it did during the ‘bad old days’. Hopefully 27Boxes represents the start of a new and lasting chapter in Melville’s story.

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