Last May, Turner Prize Award-winning artist Jeremy Dellar created an allotment garden for luxury retailer Louis Vuitton outside their new store in the Westfield London Shopping Centre.
The commission was strange - and not just for its combination of high fashion and soil, organic matter not known to be manicure-friendly.
What was strange was the willingness of Westfield Group, one of the world's largest retail property companies, to choose to amuse passers-by with black plastic sacks jammed to bursting with flowers and vegetables and a Scarecrow - not exactly usual mannequin svelte (and not even dressed in Vuitton!)
Dig around though and you start to find clues to something interesting that's going on.
In a report published in September 2008, real estate advisers Jones Lang La Salle identified a trend for shopping malls to become a 'Third Place' - a concept first promoted in the late 1980s by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg but that LaSalle applies to malls and describes as
a place where people no longer go purely to shop but rather to shop when they are out...accessible social surroundings that are separate from home and the workplace.
And what better way is there to signal the social than to create a garden. [LaSalle's report is for download here]
In their latest forecast on the U.K. retail market - Retail 2020 - Jones Lang LaSalle go one step further and point to a continuing shift from hard retailing to something that they describe as more experiential:
In other words, want to learn knife skills, boning and how to cook risotto and Thai Green curry?
Answer: get out of the house, go shopping and book a class at Recipease.
And according to the head of retail at LaSalle, quoted in real estate magazine Estates Gazette, this is a part-retail, part-cultural space concept that is forecast to grow:
Retailers will have to become entertainers, compères and butlers - and throw off the purely transactional image.
All of this is interesting not just for market traders who want a second career in showbusiness but also land-owners sitting on void retail premises and service providers trying to make sense and savings from an offline presence in a world that's increasingly online.
The People's Supermarket is a co-operative that plans to help families and low income groups in the community by rewarding members with a discount on their shopping for an annual membership fee of £25.00 (US$36/€30) and a commitment of four hours of their time to work in the shop every month.
Owned and managed by its members, The People's Supermarket aims to cut waste out of every part of the retail equation - using produce, property and people's time in a more efficient way than ever.
Upstairs looks like a conventional grocery store - and you'll find all the brands that you are used to seeing on the shelves of a conventional supermarket there, but often there will also be an alternative choice - healthy, locally-sourced and cheaper than usual, discounted by membership fees, lower staff overheads and expert sourcing of products from independent suppliers.
One of the exciting things is that once the building works are complete, downstairs The People's Supermarket you'll find a members' area and space for training, a children's nursery, cookery demonstrations and other activities that support the well-being of the community.
It's a diversity of activity inspired by the successful Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, New York and our aim to be a venture that generates a social and local economic profit from a premises that's been vacant for years.
It is not a huge leap of the imagination to turn a dead shop in a city in to a multi-functional space to service healthy living and mainstream it through a hybrid business model of social enterprise.
And now, after reading LaSalle's reports, Louis Vuitton and Westfield's sponsorship of Dellar's Scarecrow is starting to seem far from strange.
Why?Because we live in an age of conscientious consumption. People increasingly like to buy brands that carry a belief system. And it seems to make sense these days to offer shoppers - just like movie-goers, sports fans and volunteers - more of an experience than just a product.