Redcar’s ‘virtual shops’ – with added authenticity
There’s nothing like glorious weather to bring a British seaside resort to life, and Redcar, on the Tees Valley coast, had a really great buzz about it when I visited yesterday.
The streets were packed with shoppers, and there were entertainers in both the High Street and the Regent Walk shopping centre. Even Wetherspoon’s was playing host to some impromptu guitar playing from one of its customers.
I’d only been to Redcar once before, back in September 2009, but I took an immediate liking to the place. The wide, pedestrianised High Street is a pleasing public space, with coordinated street furniture and a lack of clutter (market stalls, delivery vehicles, etc.) that puts Newcastle’s Northumberland Street to shame.
Shopping centres by the sea are nearly always appealing, and Redcar’s Espanade runs directly behind the High Street. As I noted last time, this means that the town’s former Woolworths building (still occupied by the Yorkshire Trading Company) has a wonderful sea view from its back door, a feature that it must share with very few other ex-Woolies sites – Whitby, just a short way down the coast, of course being one of them.
Of course, the town centre isn’t without its problems. In the last few years, the number of empty shops in Redcar High Street has become a key issue, repeatedly flagged up in the local and national media. Since I was there last, this has prompted the local authority to create a series of ‘virtual shops’ to fill the voids, as part of its ‘Uplifting Our Town Centres’ initiative – a solution very similar to Shopjacket, but not executed with quite the same panache.
Interestingly, there’s also a virtual café, a virtual restaurant, and even (on the Esplanade) a virtual house.
Clearly, as I’ve said before, such an approach is no substitute for bringing properties back into active – and non-virtual – use. However, as a way of ensuring that such buildings don’t become a short-term visual blight on those businesses that are trading, it’s an incredibly effective solution. Walking around Redcar, my eyes were drawn to the occupied buildings instead of the vacant ones, which is surely the whole point of the exercise.
Of all the virtual shops, however, my favourite has to be the virtual fashion store at 28 High Street, below, housed in what I believe used to be a branch of the collapsed DIY retailer Leveys.
The ‘Store Closing – Everything Must Go!’ posters – left over, one imagines, from the previous tenant – certainly add a touch of credit crunch-era authenticity to the virtual shop. It’s not really the kind of message you want to communicate to prospective future occupants, though…