Redcar’s ‘virtual shops’ – with added authenticity

This could be you (4 May 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

This could be you (4 May 2011)

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.

Redcar High Street (4 May 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Redcar High Street (4 May 2011)

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.

Espanade, Redcar (4 May 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Espanade, Redcar (4 May 2011)

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.

Esplanade entrance to former Woolworths (now Yorkshire Trading Company) (4 May 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Esplanade entrance to former Woolworths (now Yorkshire Trading Company) (4 May 2011)

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.

One of Redcar's virtual shops (4 May 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

One of Redcar’s virtual shops (4 May 2011)

Interestingly, there’s also a virtual café, a virtual restaurant, and even (on the Esplanade) a virtual house.

Virtual café, Redcar (4 May 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Virtual café, Redcar (4 May 2011)

Virtual restaurant, Redcar (4 May 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Virtual restaurant, Redcar (4 May 2011)

Virtual house, Redcar (4 May 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Virtual house, Redcar (4 May 2011)

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.

Virtual fashion store, Redcar (4 May 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Virtual fashion store, Redcar (4 May 2011)

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…

9 Responses to “Redcar’s ‘virtual shops’ – with added authenticity”

  1. Soult's Retail View » Redcar’s original ex-Woolies – and a new real shop among the virtual ones said:

    May 05, 11 at 15:57

    [...] of my main motivations for visiting Redcar yesterday was to get a photo of the town’s original former Woolworths at 19 High Street, above, which [...]

  2. Dan said:

    May 05, 11 at 17:46

    Please don’t call it the Tees Valley, Graham.

  3. Graham Soult said:

    May 05, 11 at 17:49

    I’m sorry! It’s a difficult one – if I say North Yorkshire it confuses things, because then it suggests that Redcar isn’t in the ‘North East’. What solution do you recommend? :) (Admittedly, on reflection, my reference to ‘Tees Valley coast’ does sound geographically rather strange…)

  4. Dan said:

    May 06, 11 at 20:08

    I think North Yorkshire is more than fine. Teesside is equally appropriate, in the same way Gateshead can be referred to as Tyneside.

  5. Retrogadget said:

    May 08, 11 at 14:59

    I too, was in Redcar a fortnight ago and the appearance of the ‘virtual shops’ certainly made an impression. In fact at one end of the High Street – furthest from the clock tower end – there seemed to be more ‘virtual shops’ than actual ones!
    Being a Midlander and a yearly visitor to Redcar, we tend to refer to the area as Teesside – even though that has a bit of an industrial ‘tone’ to it. We much prefer to say Cleveland, but you still have to explain to people down here where exactly Cleveland is!

  6. Soult's Retail View » Poundworld’s multi-price format, DiscountUK, lands in Middlesbrough said:

    May 08, 11 at 21:10

    [...] really planned to have a quick look around Middlesbrough while waiting for my connecting bus to Redcar. However, I was startled to notice that the ex-Woolies (and ex-Waremart) unit in the town’s [...]

  7. scott said:

    May 17, 11 at 00:47

    Great to see you visiting redcar and finding some delight in what is a town trying to re-invent it’s self.

    I my self live within the borough of Redcar & Cleveland and we do consider ourselves part of North Yorkshire.

  8. Soult's Retail View » Store Twenty One adds another North East Woolies site to its portfolio said:

    Aug 12, 11 at 15:51

    [...] the coast on Teesside, Redcar’s town centre is not without its challenges either. However, everywhere you look in Redcar there are signs of [...]

  9. Soult's Retail View » Poundworld confirms 1 March opening for Redcar ‘Express’ store said:

    Feb 27, 12 at 19:29

    [...] just outside Redcar’s pedestrianised zone. The arrival is good news for a town that has been working hard to mitigate the effect of empty shops on the High Street, particularly as the unit in question has most recently housed a charity shop – something of [...]


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