Welcome to Manchester Confidential
Reset Password
The Confidential websites will be undergoing routine updates. This may cause the sites to go offline. We apologise in advance for any inconvenience.

You are here: Manchester ConfidentialNews.

Sleuth exclusive: Rags to Bitches to close

Iconic Northern Quarter store leaves the streets for the internet

Published on July 18th 2010.


Sleuth exclusive: Rags to Bitches to close

Sleuth is a sideways glance at the city every week. We give £25 for every story/rumour and piece of absurdity you find for us to print. Sometimes we even do proper news stories in Sleuth. We ask for the money back if any legal action follows.

Rags to Bitches to close
Whenever Sleuth takes guests around the city and we pass Rags to Bitches on Tib Street, people from all over the globe want to stop and go in. The fashions (often own brand), the bazaar-like interior, the carefully chosen vintage clobber are a magnet for clever shoppers. From 25 July that will cease. Rags to Bitches is to close. The business is going online. “Emotionally this is a very sad thing for us,” says co-owner Simon Buckley, “business-wise it’s the only thing to do. Each year it costs me £40,000 just to get the doors open. The rates have risen too, and we don’t get enough people up Tib Street.”

Awards turn to rags
The weird thing is that Rags to Bitches seems to have won more awards and had more press than just about any other shop in the North West, nationally and internationally. “We’ve calculated that we’d have had to pay a PR company tens of thousands of pounds to get the coverage we’ve gained,” says Buckley. “Unfortunately this doesn’t bring enough people to the door. Look at the big names like M&S and other high street retailers, they’re increasing profits. It appears that shoppers in a recession are going for big, trusted brands. Maybe it’s the way Manchester people shop too. It’s a shame that most people (and they’re Mancs) who come to the city centre don’t stray off the beaten track. We have lots of really loyal customers, but we get very little passing trade. I’ve been told by many commentators that if we’d been in other British cities we’d have been trebling our income, given the publicity.”

Sleuth’s implications for the city’s retail
So what, you might say, a shop has closed? Big deal. But Sleuth thinks the loss of Rags to Bitches is a mini-tragedy, symbolically as much as anything else. The store was a flagship for the physical experience of shopping in the city, a beacon of individuality with its dress-making and other events. Sleuth reckons its loss dilutes the city shopping experience, as would the loss of any nationally recognised store in the city. It makes Sleuth wonder what we are doing wrong in Manchester, or whether the Northern Quarter will ever fulfil its potential?

Strategy and big ideas
“There needs to be a clear strategy in place,” says Buckley, “to encourage small individual businesses to stay and grow, so people make us a destination city for this type of retail. I’m not sure that city organisations are doing everything they can to help this.” Sleuth has a fond foolish hope that maybe landlords in King Street will one day allow retailers such as Rags to Bitches a foot in the door, encourage them. Sleuth reckons it’s time for St Ann’s Square and King Street to be re-colonised by the independents. Dreams. Sleuth knows that the public and private sector in the city centre are concerned about the retail we offer. Maybe it’s time to do something though not talk about it: Manchester is probably the best putter-together of discussion groups and panels that the country has ever known.

It’s not Brighton
In Brighton they have ‘The Lanes’, full of the sort of seriously good meets oddball businesses you find spread out around the Northern Quarter. The difference is the customer base: the Northern Quarter simply doesn’t get the numbers of middle income customers that The Lanes get. Maybe our equivalent customers are too middle-minded or rigid in thinking – too safe - to venture out of their suburban fastnesses or The Trafford Centre, to ever shop in the Northern Quarter. Maybe we don’t do enough to encourage them? Sleuth thinks the physical look of the Northern Quarter with so many mouldering buildings and scruffy streets puts people off too. The Northern Quarter could do with the type of paving, street furniture and landscaping that areas such as Exchange Square, New Cathedral Street, Piccadilly Gardens and Canal Street have received via local government: or New York Street and Spinningfields have received via private investment. Often the place looks unloved, a mess. You wouldn’t want to sanitise it too much, but a clever design scheme would help.

The big sell-off - 24/25 July
Anyway Rags to Bitches will have the End of an Era Stock and Furniture sale on Saturday and Sunday 24/25 July. As for the online future, Buckley says, “What we plan to do with the website is make it an online store for the clothes but also create events around dressmaking, bespoke functions and so forth. We’ve always tried to be innovative, always been about good service. I want to continue that online. Of course we want to make money, but it’s not always been about the money, we also want to do things in what we feel is the right way, whether it’s with the dress-making classes, the clothes we produce ourselves and the events. We’ve not going away, just going digital.” Good lad. The web address is www.rags-to-bitches.co.uk.

PS
Now Sleuth doesn’t want all the shopaholics jumping off the CIS Tower in despair. There are still many wonderful stores in the Northern Quarter. Afflecks Palace is fully let, the Manchester Craft and Design Centre is still bravely soldiering on, stores such as Renegade Marmalade, Oi Polloi, Piccadilly Records, Oklahoma, Magma, Richard Goodall Gallery and many others are still with us. The Northern Quarter still has scruffy sex appeal, and the food and drink provision seems to be doing ok (although this morning we hear that Walrus bar is up for sale).

It’s just a shame that so many of the area’s quality shop indies are telling us how hard it is to turn a profit: just a shame that stores such as music-institution Beatin’ Rhythm, after a massive rent rise, look set to disappear this year. There are other issues too. Many retailers are worried to death about the future. As Buckley puts it: “The Tories could really fuck it all up, interest rates could soar and people really cut their shop spending.” Maybe the CIS Tower is an option after all.

Follow Sleuth on twitter Sleuth

Like what you see? Enter your email to sign up for our newsletters which are chock-a-block with more great reviews, news, deals and savings.

33 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

James, Northern Quarter ResidentJuly 16th 2010.

The trouble is many of these landlords don't care if their units are let or not as they are in it for the long-term investment. How does rent control work in New York? Independents should be allowed to apply for controlled or reduced rents for the good of the city. Surely the mega-corporations and council can see the benefits of a flourishing and vibrant retail environment?

simonbJuly 16th 2010.

Just as an add on to that comment.. I take the point about rents and landlords. However, in our case, our landlords have been fantastic. http://www.ethicalproperty.co.uk Also, we don't believe that we were special or different..Inducements and rent free periods of course do encourage diversity and vibrant city centres, but we also have to be there on merit. We could have carried on in Tib St but it just didn't make commercial sense anymore and the head had to rule the heart.

Leigh ScottJuly 16th 2010.

SimonB, sorry to hear your news.As has been previously mentioned, the Northern quarter needs a market to drive the footfall,something which the council and local independants need to get behind.It will not detract from current city centre propositions which are completely different to the Northern quarter's unique offering; but offer further diverse and culturally rich additions to the city and our centre.I wonder if retail giants legal planning depts would object from their London based ivory towers rendering the councils hands tied?

If his is not true, why then do the ranters representing the council on this site not take heed from recent (admittedly non-scientific)man-con study in to peoples posistive response to such an event and launch a better study?

C DaviesJuly 16th 2010.

Big shame. Physical is better then online for the city centre. I've spent hundreds of pounds at Rags and will miss it loads. the point in the article about the boarded up buildings and dirty streets is well-made. How can the Northern Quarter possibly improve when it looks so neglected.

Shaun HutchinsonJuly 16th 2010.

Manchester is too much 'Bling' and too many places catering for this.

Try getting good Olives and cheese in central Manchester without getting ripped off in Selfridges food hall.

Sue17320July 16th 2010.

It's a shame that 'Rags' is closing as it was one of the little gems of the Northern Quarter & I think that the small independent shops need some form of support in these difficult times.
I agree about the Northern Quarter needing some investment & tidying up, better parking & some good PR. I'm middle-aged & shop at high street stores, boutiques & vintage shops but I do find the N.Q. a bit scruffy & intimidating at times. A lot of the student population seem to shop there but in some of the shops I think the prices even for vintage items are probably too expensive for them & there seem to be a lot of brand new, cheaply made items which although they are individual in design similar items can be found for half the price just round the corner in Market Street.
Please let's not lose any more Manchester icons, get your act together Manchester City Council & save the Northern Quarter!

BertieBassetJuly 16th 2010.

If the NQ wasn't a suitable location why not just move the store? The centre isn't exactly short of gaps in the shop fronts at the moment.

AnonymousJuly 16th 2010.

perhaps the fact that there are so many gaps suggests it's not a good time to open an independent store in the city centre, eh? Not to mention the increased rent. I'm thinking you probably don't work in retail, Bertie.

paulmJuly 16th 2010.

I have never shopped at this particular store but I was having a conversation the other day with a friend about how the closure of Fat City Records also of Northern Quarter fame had changed both my record buying habits and also the frequency of my journeys into Manchester.
I am not sure of the impact on council policies towards shop rents and some of the other issues mentioned above. However, it does strike me that unless something is done to protect some of these off the beaten track specialist shops then the City centre will lose a valuable asset. I imagine that as each one of these shops leaves the Northern Quarter it becomes more difficult for the others to survive. From my own point of view, I know that since Fat City shut I rarely shop for records in Manchester and the money that I spent in shops such as Beatin Rhythm, Piccadilly Records has declined as well as more general shopping in the City Centre. I think these shops are also about more than retail, they are important meeting places from which networks whether they be fashion or music spring which further support cultural industries in the City.

Maria TJuly 16th 2010.

So this is what happens when you don't support the independents! A fantastic store, shame on you Mancunians..Oh well at least you can get yourself a £5 skirt at Primark and look the same as around another 5,000 plus people.

Jo NJuly 16th 2010.

This is a real shame, especially as Rags led the march in the N4 becoming the 'vintage quarter' it now is. Unless I'm mistaken the Northern Quarter doesn't have a current, dedicated website (http://www.northernqtr.co.uk being woefully out of date), which seems unbelievable if we want to drive shoppers and tourists there - it's such a rabbit warren how are people to know where to go? Something like http://www.newbury-st.com? www.visitmanchester.com/…/independent.aspx… seems to be the nearest thing.

Phil BJuly 16th 2010.

Sorry to say but it wont be missed , lets get rid of the cheap and tacky shops and put some decent shops there instead , these shops are a eye sore and they bring the area down

FlicJuly 16th 2010.

Phil B, I am trying to maintain a dignified silence, but really- in what way was RTB 'cheap' 'tacky' or 'an eyesore'?

tofuturkeyJuly 16th 2010.

What a truly weird comment Phil B

Maria TJuly 16th 2010.

Phil B, Lets guess what your suggestion is then, Decathlon maybe? Henleys? I'd put money on the fact that you have never even been there.

Sarah BJuly 16th 2010.

Phil B, you're an idiot

Se15456July 16th 2010.

vpkdkcat

Richard Hector-JonesJuly 16th 2010.

Rags to Bitches is / was a great shop run by people who invested their time, money and effort into a unique aesthetic that remains opposed to the identikit high street.
The closure of the shop - and it's offshoot events, wedding services and err... tarot card readings - is a shame not only on a personal level for Flic and Simon but for the wider Northern Quarter community who don't want to be dressed head to toe in Gap, TopShop etc etc.
Good luck to them from hereon...

Raol Moat''s HeadacheJuly 16th 2010.

Yawn!

Graig HJuly 16th 2010.

That Phil B is rubbish. He's more rubbish than Roaul Moat. He's so rubbish he needs his own Facebook site so idiots who like murderer Moat can jump on there and be idiots like Phil B. Rags was great. I bought my girlfriend a butterfly broach there that she still wears all the time. Goodbye and good luck with the site.

AgricolaJuly 16th 2010.

Miss it. Miss It. Miss it. Miss it. Miss it. Miss it. Already. Good Luck.

AnonymousJuly 16th 2010.

Why are they all called stores these days? Shop was fine.

Y NotJuly 16th 2010.

Great shop. Open another one in King Street. Yes.

Andy JonesJuly 16th 2010.

Sad

MadelaineJuly 16th 2010.

Great shop, great service from clever people who knew fashion. In fact the service was the key. As well as the stock. Just loved the place really. Upsetting this.

DaveJuly 16th 2010.

We had somewhere in Manchester once that could've been our very own "Lanes" - a warren of medieval streets near the cathedral - now the Arndale Centre sits on top of it, which was apparently a better investment of £100m circa 1970 than fixing the damage from the blitz. Sadly I don't think the NQ will ever be like that but hey, Afflecks is still going strong.

ConManJuly 17th 2010.

The physical and psychological barrier presented by the Arndale Centre will always make a detour to the north and east of the shopping core something of a leap of faith. If you don't find something you want in N/4, you're left with a long, tortuous and unpleasant walk through a depressing shopping mall or a depressing Market Street to get back to the action. In addition to addressing rents and rates, if you can't make the Arndale Centre more permeable and pleasant you're left with making N/4 more of a destination in its own right. To my mind, that means old fashioned investment in buildings and spaces, chief amongst these for attention or redevelopment would be the High Street car park.

ConManJuly 17th 2010.

I meant, of course the Church Street not High Street car park.

AnonymousJuly 17th 2010.

Shivering Goat is right... but everyone knows, only junk food is available for cooks in the City Centre: the residents are all MC's Heroes (try cooking in Manchester's micro apartments), the workers want sandwiches or less, and the natives from the suburbs shop in the Tesco nearest to them at home. This Manchester is not Leeds or even Liverpool (where I went to buy some superior dried figs recently from a choice of outlets.)

Only with a single landowner can you create what people want in the Northern Quarter. And even where this is possible it's difficult to make work as Marylebone shows in London.
As JS said elsewhere this is development is about capitalism.

Fig searchJuly 17th 2010.

It's a shame about Rags to Bitches but Anonymous is talking rubbish. I can buy as many lovely figs as I want close to my house in Ayres Road. Rusholme, Cheetham Hill has tens of places where you can do this. True Manchester is made up differently from little Leeds and Liverpool with its wealthy suburbs much further out than in those cities and this affects things, but really the man should try harder.

LJJuly 19th 2010.

Eh, has Phil B even seen the shop?

Tbh Flic, as gorgeous as the shop looked, it was always a bit intimidating for me.

And anonymous is the junk food comment a joke? Not all city dwellers live in micro-apartments you know.

DaveJuly 20th 2010.

I think it's a shame when people blame lack of footfall for the demise of their business, I know other businesses in the area that are doing better than ever so surely this can't be the case. I also think it is wrong for people to start blaming the council for not investing in the area or keeping it clean when the reality is that this shop was always closed when I went to visit and didn't seem to invest in it's own buying to keep it filled with quality vintage clothes and instead stocked it with ill-fitting new garments based on old designs?!? People should accept that they can't always successfully run a business and leave it at that rather than trying to blame things that simply aren't true.

NortherngeezerJuly 20th 2010.

I cant see how yer can blame a lack of football Dave.............we've just had 5 weeks of the world cup and the season starts in 3 weeks;-)

To post this comment, you need to login.Please complete your login information.
OR CREATE AN ACCOUNT HERE..
Or you can login using Facebook.

Latest Rants

Anonymous

Repeating,without any evidence the same point that socialism = public services is hardly…

 Read more
Anonymous

You absolutely right,I hate all these bloody nimbys stopping development and progress.Of course if…

 Read more
Anonymous

Manchester's size and climate isn't dissimilar to Rotterdam or Dusseldorf but the city is held back…

 Read more
Anonymous

Straying off the point again David, which is that investing in public services is socialist but as…

 Read more

Explore The Site

© Mark Garner t/a Confidential Direct 2017

Privacy | Careers | Website by: Planet Code | SEO by The eWord