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Birmingham is a tale of two cities – buzzing Bullring and battered shops

For every shop that is packed in the Bullring, there’s another one shut on various streets around Birmingham city centre.

Walking around Birmingham city centre in search for a coffee, it’s hard not to realise the value of Charles Dickens’ 160-year-old opening to A Tale of Two Cities.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Dickens began.

“It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

Fast forward to 2018. Writer Graham Young takes a look around our divided city – and wonders where we’re going wrong.

And the winter sales frenzy sits at odds with the ever-increasing numbers of rough sleepers in the centre of town.

For every shop in the Bullring that was packed on Boxing Day, there was another one lying empty elsewhere.

On one corner of the city you might find gold and riches, on another abject poverty.

In short, Birmingham itself has become the self-contained ‘tale of two cities’.

A place where some people are content to show off by driving round the city centre streets revving up their throaty supercars.

“Look at me,” the drivers beg.

But in a wholly different way to those shivering beneath wet blanket and duvets on doorsteps.

The Bullring was heaving during the day – so all must be well, right, if there are 700 people waiting for Next to open at 6am?

Not necessarily.

Leading stores from River Island to Topshop, Burton Menswear, H&M and Next were all offering at least 50 per cent discounts.

But does that damage their brands – given that others from Tiffany to Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Apple were not cutting prices at all to preserve their mystique?

Many others are teetering on the brink, from Debenhams to House of Fraser.

Other giants from Next to Marks & Spencer are continuously trying to try to reinvent themselves one way or another.

Even John Lewis has not been immune to the cold winds blowing across the the country’s high streets – but it still resisted opening on Boxing Day in favour of launching its own ‘Clearance’ sale on Thursday, December 27.

With no trains running in and out of New Street Station below, it was as if the city had been struck by an apocalypse – and we were all reduced to shopping online.

Underneath the giant arched roof of the atrium, there was literally nobody on the usually busy concourse below the main shopping level.

Well, there was one solitary figure – the Lego model of former Slade star Noddy Holder whose cry of ‘It’s Christmaaaaas’ has been the hallmark every Christmas shopping centre expedition ever since Merry Xmas Everybody first topped the charts in 1973.

On December 219, H&M’s sister store Monki became the first shop to open there, right next door to Waterstones.

The whole reinvention of the former Pavilions Shopping Centre, which closed in May 2016, should have been ready for Christmas.

But Primark announced in early October that it would not be opening until the spring, though that would still be in time for the company’s 50th anniversary in June.

Since the company acquired Littlewoods in 2005 for £409 million it has expanded massively and been one of the few genuine High Street success stories.

Its current New Street store though will become vacant once the new store opens. What then?

For now, though, its window promises ‘Reductions’ rather than the headline-grabbing posters of its rivals promising discounts of 50, 60, 70 per cent and more.

Touring the rest of Birmingham city centre is a pretty sobering experience in comparison to visiting the Bullring, still pristine after 15 years.

The financial crash happened a decade ago and in most of the years since there has been good stock market growth overall.

But it’s noticeable how many people seem to be much poorer than before.

Many shops have the shutters down.

And spacious doorways are often taken up with rough sleepers bedding down for the night.

There are several key geographical areas for concern… (Click link below to read full story)

Source: Birmingham Live

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