Global Ideas: Consumerism meets community in Bangkok

21 Jan 2017

Bangkok is booming. With a skyline that is virtually unrecognisable to what it was just five years ago, this city’s retail scene grows and thrives. Tucked away in a sub-”soi” (“street” in Thai) of Bangkok’s trendy Thong Lor district, however, one relatively small retail concept is thinking ahead and doing things a little bit differently.

The Commons

The Commons calls itself a “community mall,” but it is not like any other mall you have in mind. The four storey eco-friendly complex is purpose-built to bring locals closer to nature, community and wholesome living – a welcomed departure from the city’s overkill of air conditioned luxury commercial malls and international franchises.

Known as Bangkok’s hippest hangout space for families, foodies and night-owls alike, The Commons challenges the idea that malls are a dying concept. With recent reports of iconic shopping malls closing down across the US and shifting consumer behaviour, the creators behind this space have taken a novel approach to multi-brand, brick-and-mortar business. Retailers around the world: take note.

The Commons is the brainchild of the two entrepreneurs behind Roast, a popular local coffee and brunch spot, who moved their flagship establishment to the top floor of their own four storey complex. Positioning the project as “Thong Lor’s backyard,” their vision was to bring together like-minded quality local producers and create a space that invites people to spend quality time in the neighbourhood.

The Commons

The space is divided into four sections: Market, Village, Play Yard and Top Yard. From sipping coffee after a yoga class, to spending time with the family before heading home with a bag full of quality produce, or meeting up with friends for drinks and tapas, there are plenty of reasons to hang out and relax. On the Market ground floor, you’ll find some of Bangkok’s leading restaurateurs and artisan grocers. The Village floor houses shops selling everything from flowers and natural ice cream. There’s even a waffle shop that dedicates a corner toward a pop-up shop selling adventure gear. The Play Yard houses a community space, as well as a yoga and pilates studio. And the Top Yard has a communal kitchen hosting cooking demonstrations, a bar for private gatherings and even a communal garden space inviting locals to plant produce.

The Commons

The founders initially drew inspiration from London’s Covent Garden and Napa’s Oxbow Public Market, re-inventing this spirit in a localised, smaller scale. Rather than replicate Bangkok’s tired mall formula, they shunned international franchises and invited other home-grown producers to open up shop, opting for quality over footfall.

For Bangkokians especially, consumerism is a way of life. As the city continues to develop, there’s a lack of urban planning. An abundance of commercial retail space leaves little space to enjoy nature and just hang out, without needing to escape the city. This only adds to the appeal of The Common’s commitment to eco-friendly community living, which plays into the city’s rising popularity of farmer’s markets and appreciation for artisanship.

The Commons

The space itself is cleverly designed to replicate a backyard feel, with tables hidden in leafy nooks, wooden stairs designed as hangout spaces and a colossal fan that creates a constant breeze through the tropical outdoor space. Hosting regular live music nights, weekend family fairs and community art projects, the project does much more than put a bunch of retail businesses under the same roof. Efforts to tap into the local surrounding community are also made clear, as visitors are urged to take part in “common compassion” through leaving charity donations in exchange for bottled water.

Located in an area where there is no shortage of shopping, restaurants and nightlife, The Commons stands out by cultivating value that extends beyond its four walls. A forward-thinking concept for urban living, it captures many of our key retail trends for 2017 from offering human experiences to creating community hubs. What this mall proves: when retail is met with a more locally-minded and community-spirited approach, the people will come and hang out.

The Commons

So, what can malls and retailers learn from The Commons?

  • Listen to the needs of locals and customers to create fresh concepts that add value to their daily lives.
  • Create communal spaces that let people gather, hangout and linger from day to night.
  • The sum is more than its parts: collaborate with like-minded local retailers and producers to create bigger concepts together.
  • Great events can help build community and give people reasons to keep coming back.
  • Offer your customers the chance to tap into local charities to give your retail business a greater cause.

Words by Lisa Roolant