The difficult retail situation has not prevented the opening of two major new shopping malls that have been in the planning stages for a long time. An estimated 160,000 shoppers attended the opening day of the Westfield Mall in the White City district of West London. It is said to be the biggest urban mall of the kind with a retail space of 1.6 million square feet.

Located in the wealthy Middle Eastern city of Dubai, the Dubai Mall is the world’s biggest in terms of gross space and one of the largest ones in leasable space, but it looked less crowded on the first day because its corridors are very large. While 90 percent of the 280 stores in the London mall are already in operation, the Dubai Mall is starting up with only half of its future 1,200 retail tenants, and nearly 50 of them are shoe shops.

About 20 shoe shops are housed in the Westfield Mall, which will bank on the shopping crowds who have been patronizing the nearby Kensington High Street, Kings Road and other favorite nearby retail venues. Some retailers have closed their local street shops and relocated to the mall, which offers many amenities in a modern closed space.

Fornarina is among the shoe and apparel retailers to have opened a store in the mall, providing a multi-sensorial experience on 100 square meters. Terra Plana opened there its first completely sustainable store, using recycled cardboard like the successful store concept already developed by Manas.

Soletrader opened a Sole store based on a new concept in the new venue. The mall also hosts the first European store of UGG. Camper, Crocs and Vans also have concept shops there. Other tenants are Kurt Geiger, Barratts, Russell & Brombley, Office and Schuh.

While only half of its retail surface is occupied for now, the Dubai Mall features a Who’s Who of the shoe world. Not including the athletic shoes brands, footwear brands with their own stores include Baldinini, Bally, Birkenstock, Bata, Caterpillar, Cesare Paciotti, Christian Louboutin, Clarks, Crocs, ECCO, Fabi, Geox, Jimmy Choo, JM Weston, John Lobb, Manolo Blahnik, Merrell, Moreschi, Naturalizer, Rockport and Steve Madden.

Brandfolio, which represents Sketchers in the Gulf states, opened its 13th store under that brand name in the region. Another tenant in the Dubai Mall is Alberto Guardiani, which is also opening shop in Kuwait City and Damascus. The shopping center also houses stores such as Aldo, Bata, Dune, Global Feet, Kurt Geiger and Nine West.

Built by Emaar Properties, which is also in the process of erecting the world’s largest skyscraper in its immediate vicinity, the Dubai Mall will also house the first Bloomingdale’s and Galeries Lafayette department stores in the region. The amenities include a big aquarium and an Olympic-size ice rink (more in Sporting Goods Intelligence Europe).

The United Arab Emirates is a shoe-hungry nation, with a footwear market that is estimated to hit $300 million by 2010. The growing population and an increase in tourism contribute to swell the demand there, and its retail sector is expanding along with them. High-end footwear is expected to show the best results.