Recording Northumberland Street’s retail (r)evolution
I took advantage of today’s gorgeous weather, and the fact that I was in town anyway, to capture some shots of Newcastle’s Northumberland Street before the quite significant changes to its retail tenants get underway next month.
I’m always conscious of taking relatively few photos of Northumberland Street, largely due to a combination of obstructions – lots of people, obviously, but also the pedestrianised street’s tendency to be cluttered up with street furniture, market stalls, delivery vehicles and people digging it up. However, given that at least two current retailers on the street will have moved on by the end of next month, it seemed a timely opportunity to head down there with my camera.
Rereading my piece last week about Clas Ohlson coming to Newcastle, I was aware that, in all the excitement, I’d barely reflected at all upon Collectables’ departure to make way for the Swedish retailer.
The property housing the store has quite an interesting history – it was Littlewoods for many years, before being subdivided into H&M, Collectables and WHSmith in 1999, all of which have traded there ever since.
Collectables is something of a North East success story, growing from a single barrow at MetroCentre in 1986 to today’s chain of 12 stores from Castleford to Alnwick selling a wide range of glass, china, handbags, jewellery and kitchenware. However, even before Clas Ohlson’s announcement last week – which, I understand, precipitated Collectables’ own announcement later the same day – there were clues that something was afoot with the Newcastle store.
A month ago, the store was closed for several days ahead of a £1.1m ‘Bad Weather Clearance Sale’, while stock was transfered in from other branches. This did make me wonder about Collectables’ long-term plans for the site.
Visiting the store today, the clearance basically seems to have evolved into a ‘Closing Down’ sale, with posters confirming the shop’s permanent closure due to the ‘end of lease’, but making reference to its planned relocation to an as-yet-unconfirmed “out-of-town-location”.
The shop was packed when I visited today, with the perennially popular instore restaurant doing a roaring trade. I doubt that Clas Ohlson plans to retain it, but there’s no doubt that the restaurant currently does a great job of bringing people into and through the store.
Echoing the information on Collectables’ website, a staff member confirmed to me that the store is set to close by April 19th, giving Clas Ohlson at least three months to undertake its transformation.
I’m curious to see how Clas Ohlson deals with the narrow street frontage and the need to entice people down the escalator into the basement store. You can achieve a lot with some creativity, colour and bold signage, and all those ingredients will be important here.
A little further along the street, one store that has already had to deal with a narrow street frontage is the recently opened Cotswold Outdoor, which occupies the first and second floors – formerly the Hustler Pool Club and Leo’s Restaurant – above the combined Currys and PC World. Though I blogged about the store during its development last summer, I was aware of not having made any comment since it opened back in October.
The store’s entrance and signage certainly makes bold use of the corporate red, while a mock rockface makes a striking impression upon entry. Once up the escalator, the amount of space over the two sales floors is surprising, immediately making Cotswold the flagship outdoor store in Newcastle. When I last visited, I was particularly impressed by the store’s superb range of walking and travel guides, an area in which many outdoor stores disappoint. Overall, the impression that Cotswold’s Newcastle store gives is of a quality retailer that is an authority in its field. I hope it does well, and I’ll certainly check out the store again in advance of my next walking holiday.
Another new arrival last October that I hadn’t yet captured in its finished state is Bank, the JD-owned young fashion chain, which I previously photographed in July. The clean, modern shopfront and elegant signage is undoubtedly a vast improvement on the Priceless Shoes store that it replaced.
Further along, another store set to join Collectables in leaving the street next month is Newcastle’s current Next, when it moves into the new, 55,000 sq ft premises in Eldon Square that I last wrote about a fortnight ago. This will give BHS the best part of six months to transform the site ahead of the planned opening of its new store in October.
Meanwhile, the old BHS – which closed its doors last month – had all its logos removed not long after closure and looks to be awaiting its incorporation into the existing Primark store next door. A notice in the former BHS window thanks shoppers for their “custom over the years”, and confirms that “we will open again in Newcastle in the autumn and look forward to welcoming you to our new store.”
Again, it will be interesting to see the extent of any changes to the building’s external appearance as Primark merges BHS’s lower-ground and ground floors with its own existing ground and first floors. Primark’s first floor window was a recent insertion, punched into the blank frontage when it took over the premises from C&A in 2000. Though the symmetry works with Primark’s existing entrance and signage, it will start to look odd when one retailer occupies the entire building.
I hadn’t realised that when Primark acquired its 50,000 sq ft Newcastle site 11 years ago, it was, at the time, the retailer’s largest store. It’s a sign of Primark’s incredible success over the last decade that this store is now considered relatively compact, and will almost double in size once the incorporation of the old BHS site is complete.
Overall, it’s certainly proving a busy time for movements on Northumberland Street, despite research by property consultants Cushman & Wakefield last September suggesting that it was still the seventh most expensive retail thoroughfare in the UK in terms of annual rent per square foot. In the current economic and consumer spending climate, it’s got to be a pretty good vote of confidence to have new tenants lined up for the Collectables, Next and BHS units even before those stores have closed.