ATRIUM.BRUSSELS IS 18 YEARS OLD
– 2 december 2016 –
The Regional Agency for Commerce is 18 today. Its path to adulthood has not been easy and the Agency is proud of its efforts! To mark the occasion, Atrium.Brussels is telling its story in the style of Alexandre Dumas, recounting tales of three of its oldest recruits. Three musketeers who have crossed swords for nearly 20 years, in the name of trade in Brussels.
The story behind Atrium.Brussels began… in the cold. The decline of certain shopping areas led to the decision in 1998 by the Brussels-Capital Region to set up a not-for-profit organisation to revitalise its shopping districts. In December, 24 people from different backgrounds were recruited to create the not-for-profit organisation named “Revitaliser les quartiers commerçants”(Revitalising shopping districts). Erik, Jean-Robert and Bertrand’s great adventure had begun.
“When you say you started with nothing, that word is insufficient,” Erik Baptist told us, mischievously. Erik, now Strategic Advisor at Atrium.Brussels, was chosen to revitalise the Marolles district at that time. “We didn’t even have any premises! So we used to meet in Vollegas, the corner café.”
One way of boosting local trade ? “If you like,” laughs Jean-Robert Procès, former Retail Development Agent for Chaussée de Gand. ‘Chaussée de Gand was, in a manner of speaking, my HQ. And my colleagues awarded me the prize for the “most open office” (laughter). And Bertrand, who was responsible for Helmet district at that time, added: “We were the ones to unearth the items that would furnish our future premises, to add the first coats of paint. We had to construct our job. Literally.”
Each district manager actually had to create their own job. “Everybody had their own way of facing a problem and finding a solution. We had a lot of freedom in our roles and that’s definitely what enabled us to do so well.”
More than anything, they had to gain the trust of the retailers. The most delicate task, by far: ”The retailers were, for the most part, mistrusting, seeing us as ‘in the pay’of the government, put there to spy on them.” But everything changed when they themselves became retailers, like Jean-Robert: “I had to shut my stationer’s shop in Molenbeek. So I wanted to become the doctor for my district, meaning I could prevent the disease rather than cure it.“
The seduction operation by our agents seems to have borne fruit. In 2005 Charles Picqué, then Minister-President of the Brussels region, decided to make the not-for-profit organisation a Regional Agency for Urban Investment and Transversal Management of Shopping Districts: and Atrium was born.
With its more transverse approach, the brand-new agency took on new tasks, such as research into new brands and the development of high-end retail outlets. And the retail development agents became town centre managers.
“Atrium.Brussels is undergoing constant change, that’s the name of the game,” explains Jean-Robert. “But its members will always be that joyful band of brothers from those early days.“
Furthermore, the Region intends to expand Atrium’s activities to cover its whole geographical area very shortly. In 2015 a Management Contract was drawn up with the Regional Government to make Atrium.Brussels the reference body for regional retailing.
“In the beginning, we were facilitators for the districts more than anything else, at the mercy of retailers, without any useful experience,” remembers Bertrand. “Today, we have a solid reputation with a clear and overarching identity. I’d say that tenacity pays.”
And on this point, the figures speak for themselves. In 2016 alone, Atrium.Brussels has met nearly 150 people with new projects and assisted about 70 retailers until they opened. The Agency has also trialled around 20 projects to revitalise the 104 shopping districts in the Region.
With 100 members and a few moves under its belt, the small not-for-profit of the early days is definitely not that far removed.
Do you wish to open a shop in Brussels ? C’est par ici !