‘It has a real buzz’: how the new UK high street is bucking the trend

‘It has a real buzz’: how the new UK high street is bucking the trend

horlton, Great Manchester, is thriving with a mix of businesses backed by an independent ethos and community spirit.

The woes of the British high street were highlighted again this week by figures that showed chain stores were closing their doors at the fastest rate in at least nine years.

A net 2,481 stores, banks and other high street businesses disappeared from Britain’s top 500 high streets last year, 40% more than in 2017, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers research compiled by the Local Data Company (LDC).

But there are also signs of hope. Five retail categories in particular have had increases in 2018: sport and health clubs; cake shops; ice-cream parlours; bookshops; and vaping stores.

In one southern Manchester suburb all the growth areas are in evidence. With its fiercely independent ethos and community spirit to support local businesses, Chorlton has many retail bright spots. The Guardian spoke with traders in the area to see how they were managing to thrive in an industry that has been struggling in recent years.

For 25-year-old Tasharelle Jones-Hoyes, the Little Box Gym in St Werburghs Road has been a lifeline. She first came through its doors last October. Struggling with depression, she was seeking refuge. Jones-Hoyes become a fully fledged member of the “Little Box family” two weeks ago when she started working in the gym.

“I had very low confidence and was battling lots of internal problems. I would never have gone into other gyms because of the atmosphere but this one was different. It was somewhere I wouldn’t be judged,” she said.

Although not a social enterprise, the owner, Sarah Morrison, who runs the gym with her mother and grandmother, often forgoes membership fees for customers who can’t afford it. She has applied for community interest company status, which helps businesses with a social focus.

Morrison, 28, said she wanted to give something back to the community.

“This is not a stereotypical cardio-junky gym – it is for everyone. About 60% of our client base have one medical need or another, ranging from cancer to mental health problems, and who wouldn’t necessarily engage with other facilities but will come here. We are not intimidating. We don’t treat people like pay packets.

“A lot of businesses in Chorlton are like this. People are not just doing it to make money. They are doing it for the good of the whole community,” she adds.

With its bright pink facade, Cake Box on Wilbraham Road stands out from the crowd.

Liz Scott parks up her Brompton bike and buys a rainbow-coloured square sponge. Her son has nut and egg allergies and she has found the perfect place to order his birthday cake.

“I come to Chorlton all the time because it has places like this. It is a really good example of somewhere that has shops that caters for the people that live in the area. There are pockets of cool, independent shops and then those that cater for specific communities like BAME and vegan people. There is something for everyone,” she said.

Opened last year by London entrepreneur Mitan Mistry, 31, it is part of a franchise. Mistry and his brother own two further shops in Manchester, two in Bradford and three in London.

Mistry said he invested in the venture because he comes from a vegetarian background and there were no stores offering egg-free cakes. He picked Chorlton because he supports Manchester United and he could only ever be based in the south of the city.

He said: “Other high streets compared to Chorlton are pretty dull. It is very lively and there is always something new. It has a real buzz. It has something new, fresh and unique, and we love being part of it.”

Adeel Khan, 30, from nearby Stretford, opened Dessert Republic on Barlow Moor Road four years ago. The running of the shop is a family affair and Khan’s inspiration came from his university days when he travelled across Europe from Paris to Barcelona.

“When I was there I noticed there were lots of creperies and places selling just ice-cream on every corner. There are not that many places around here that just serve desserts so it was a nice little gap in the market and I had always wanted to open a shop in Chorlton because it’s so hip and it has a thriving high street.”

Since opening Khan has grown a regular customer base and he says the passionate local community support of independent businesses has kept his shop open.

“There are such a wide variety of people in the area. It’s got working-class and middle-class people all living together, a very vibrant community, the type of people that support independent businesses.”

Sarah Pregnall admits that the past nine months have been a struggle at times owing to high rents.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Sarah Pregnall admits that the past nine months have been a struggle at times owing to high rents.

Nestled between coffee shops and restaurants and opposite the worker-owned Unicorn supermarket, Vinyl Fiction opened nine months ago.

The owner, Sarah Pregnall, said she decided to ditch the corporate lifestyle after 15 years on the road as a learning and development consultant and open a book and record shop.

“Towards the latter end of my career the only thing that was making me happy was coming home to Chorlton. There was a big motivator to spend more time here. I love the community, the people, the independent vibe that it has,” she said.

Pregnall says she always had a romantic idea of owning her own bookshop and she has been overwhelmed by the community support. She admits that the past nine months have been a struggle at times owing to high rents and very little footfall on some days – but she remains optimistic.

“It has been daunting at times and we have had quite a few anxious moments but we remain hopeful – if a business like ours is going to do well anywhere it’s going to be Chorlton,” she said.

Source: The Guardian

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