What’s been happening in the North East’s retail centres? Here’s your round-up of April’s important developments
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In good news for the city, after a succession of recent closures, Middlesbrough-based independent designer fashion retailer Psyche officially opened its new Durham shop in April.
— Graham Soult (@soult) April 5, 2018
The store at 20-21 Silver Street has been created from a former Café Rouge, and stocks luxury menswear labels like C.P Company, KENZO, Paul Smith, Armani, Hugo Boss, Clarks Originals, Barbour and Paul Smith alongside emerging and niche brands.
Psyche already trades from two sites in Middlesbrough, but, apart from a short-lived store at Newcastle’s Eldon Garden in the 1990s, Durham represents its first venture beyond its hometown.
Psyche’s Middlesbrough flagship, and its online store, stock womenswear and childrenswear too, and the longer-term plan, according to owner Steve Cochrane, is to open separate ladies’ and kids’ shops in Durham if the menswear store is a success.
The Marks & Spencer store in Durham closed for good on 7 April, meaning that two of the largest shop units in the city centre – the old M&S, and the ex-BHS, which is currently a temporary M&Co – are both seeking new occupants.
The roster of retailers already in the city centre or at the nearby Arnison Centre – where Durham’s out-of-town M&S is – mean that the list of potential replacements is fairly limited, though Wilko (which traded in the city centre until 2016), TK Maxx, TJ Hughes or Boyes are all plausible.
— Graham Soult (@soult) February 9, 2016
Inevitably, Primark would be the ideal candidate, but is arguably less likely to see Durham, or the available units, as big enough for its requirements.
However, the city’s historical lack of large retail spaces, together with the boost that will come from the current Riverwalk and Milburngate developments, must make it more likely than not that the ex-M&S will be filled before long.
Northumberland Street plans?
Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has reportedly purchased the 90,000 sq ft ex-Littlewoods building at 36-40 Northumberland Street in Newcastle.
It seems unlikely that Sports Direct would move into the building, given that its store across the street (ex-Zavvi/Peacocks site) only opened in 2014; indeed, it could just be a canny investment.
— Graham Soult (@soult) November 9, 2017
However, is it possible that the company might consider opening its high-end fashion fascia Flannels in the vacant basement unit?
The fascia already has a strong presence in the North East, having opened stores in Sunderland (ex-Primark), Metrocentre (ex-Gap/Peacocks/Internacionale), Middlesbrough (ex-BHS) and Darlington (ex-TK Maxx) over the last two years.
Eldon Garden shopping centre to shut?
Peer Group, the owners of Eldon Garden shopping centre in Newcastle, announced in April that the mall could be shut down.
Though the street-facing units are let – to Tesco Express, Pure Gym and Stonehouse Pizza and Carvery, among others – the mall itself is reported to be 85% vacant, with the few tenants that remain including Bravissimo, The Pen Shop, and the popular North East Art Collective.
Peer Group has highlighted the high cost of maintaining the centre in its current state, and claims that Newcastle City Council has shown “no willingness to engage” regarding issues including access to the Eldon Garden car park.
On the other hand, it can certainly be argued that the centre, which opened in 1989 with Debenhams at Home (and later The Pier) as its anchor, has never really worked well right from the start.
It suffers from several major flaws, including a relatively peripheral location in the city centre, a predominance of small units with frequent tenant turnover, and tortuous pedestrian access from the street.
Equally, some of the recent letting decisions, such as installing a charity shop at the entrance to the mall by John Lewis, and having the new Pure Gym accessed only from the street – thereby missing out on the footfall that could have been generated in the mall itself – have raised eyebrows.
Whether the final outcome is redevelopment, or a concerted effort to give the centre a reason for existing – perhaps as a designer/independent quarter, rents and business rates permitting – it’s clear that something needs to change soon.
Victoria’s Secret coming
Next’s old unit became vacant in March, after the retailer relocated to a new larger store where BHS used to be.
Confirmation of Victoria’s Secret’s opening on Tyneside comes five years after the brand was linked with Hammerson’s Monument Mall development in Newcastle city centre.
Artist’s impressions displayed on site at the time (below) showed a Victoria’s Secret store alongside names that had already been confirmed (such as Jamie’s Italian), and others that were confirmed shortly afterwards (including Kiehl’s and Hugo Boss).
Confusingly, however, the inclusion of Victoria’s Secret seems just to have been a red herring – though the excitement it generated back then can’t have done any harm in persuading the retailer to open on Tyneside now.
These updates on some of April’s North East store openings are a sample of what you can find in the latest issue of my monthly Soult’s Retail Report.
The report is packed with information and insight on the most significant openings, closures and new developments across Britain’s retail centres, organised by region, and covering all parts of the country, including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Details of the available subscription packages can be found on my CannyInsights.com website.