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Stretford Mall: A Portrait Of A Dying Shopping Centre

L'Oréal Blackett, Muhammad Ali, Barry and the manager's dream of indie shops

Written by . Published on December 12th 2013.


Stretford Mall: A Portrait Of A Dying Shopping Centre
 

“STRETFORD is a little corner of Manchester famed for its Arndale Centre or 'mall' that reeks of sausage rolls and depression,” I wrote recently.

“...oh the despair, always the despair,” someone responded.

This followed a particularly stressful morning, I was in a rush and just found that Sally Hair & Beauty where I had previously bought cheap hair products was yet another shop to join Stretford Mall's increasing store closures.

Disappointment ensued; looking around at the aisles of shoulder-to-shoulder vacant lots and ‘To Let’ signs, far more pungent than the Gabbots Farm butchers, was the stench of the recession. Recession had come through the Mall like a hurricane taking with it, to name just a few, Argos, Clinton Cards, T J Hughes, H Samuels, Dorothy Perkins and to most local's despair, McDonalds.

The hungry and the hungover have been up in arms about this for awhile.

Stretford  Mall doesn’t hustle and bustle like the city centre at 9am; it rolls out of bed, stretches its legs, yawns and makes itself a brew.

This isn’t the same Stretford Mall most locals, and close-by in Gorse Hill and Old Trafford, would visit in droves.

I know this as I’ve lived in Stretford and Old Trafford most of my life. I knew Stretford Mall before its name was changed from Stretford Arndale in 2003.  Stretford Mall gave me my first job, my second job and it was the first place I travelled to when I was allowed to get on the bus by myself at 13.

It has stood proudly as a point of reference for Stretford dwellers – your whereabouts in Stretty is determined by how close or how far you are from its entrance and in my primary school days, Mum’s trips to Stretford Mall meant one of three things: new school shoes, a copy of Smash Hits magazine and yes, a sausage roll.

Indeed, pastry treats are still popular in Stretford Mall as is the granny favourite, Bon Marché clothing store, one of the oldest shops still operating since the Mall opened its doors in 1969. Modelled on the American Malls, it was, back then, one of the biggest Arndale Centres in Britain.

"A lot of old people come here. A lot" 

If I was to say Muhammed Ali and Ovaltine to a Stretford local over 50 years old they’ll remember when the boxer payed a visit to promote the hot drink in 1972. Stretford Mall’s Duty Manager, Mike Russell, recalled that locals over-excitedly reduced Muhammed to a, “startled wreck”. Shoppers smashed windows just to get in, and the man who gave us “float likes a butterfly, sting like a bee” escaped hurriedly via the back exit.

It’s hard to imagine Stretford Mall as it once was, packed with shoppers, flower shows, Miss Stretford pageants, tea dances, visits from celebrities such as Bobby Charlton and locals swelling with pride at their new, modern shopping complex.

Img_5147Stretford Mall

Now, while neighbouring shopping centres such as Trafford Centre and Manchester Arndale thrive with vivid colour throughout the festive period, Stretford Mall is greyscale.

It doesn't help that the only Tesco you can see from the moon has opened half a mile away up Chester Road, with all the amenity, more or less, but less of the diversity of Stretty Mall. 

On this particular visit, it was 9am and a dull Christmas jingle chimes through the intercom. Stretford Mall doesn’t hustle and bustle like the city centre at this time; it rolls out of bed, stretches its legs, yawns and makes itself a brew. Shoppers move at the slowest pace – mostly because its main customers are of retirement age.

Al's 'Babez' stall,Stretford MallAl's 'Babez' stall,Stretford Mall“There’s lots of old people that come here. A lot.” says Al, owner of Babez market stall. Babez has been selling an array of beauty products for 6 years and she’s not impressed with the Mall's closures. “Footfall has dropped massively and it’s definitely had an impact. I’m keeping a float but it’s been difficult.”

Situated for the time being on the side of the Mall with fewer closures, Al recognises that shoppers are put off by costs. “People are going to the Trafford Centre where there’s free parking and don’t want to come here and pay the £2.50. Even having to pay 20p for the toilets. It may be small but it is off-putting."

More off-putting is that there’s not much to buy anymore.

The market is in dire shape, reduced to almost nothing, a part from a ‘Gift For All’ stall selling watches, carpets and school uniforms and a butchers that stands lonely at the very back of the sparse clearing. Above a mezzanine (that I had never noticed before) looks untouched from the 1980s, including an abandoned hairdressers that still has pictures of 80s hair styles in the window.

It’s eerie. Cue tumbleweed.

Img_5174Nice hairstyle - once

I was suprised to find around a dark gloomy corner, with a collapsing roof, Kingfisher cafe. Not exactly in a prime location.

Img_5159Stretford Mall's Market

Still sporting its garish blue and yellow former glory, it was deserted, apart from the teenage girl playing with her mobile in the corner.

Kingfisher’s new manager joined the cafe in the summer. “Looking at the books from 2011–2012 takings have dropped massively. Our main customers already know about us or stumble upon us by accident. I’m from Hale and people from round here tell me constantly how great it used to be.”

Img_5161Kingfisher

Regardless of how it used to be waaaay back, even more recently it was a damn sight better.

Of course Stretford Mall in the latter years was always more functional than fashionable; it’s where you went for the necessities much like a motorway service station. You come with a pocket full of change to post your letters, buy some bleach, some deodorant, you get your bits, your bobs and you get out. It’s not about frivolous spending; it’s more about cutting costs with food shopping, getting your shoes re-heeled and last minute birthday cards.

That is by no means a bad thing.

My dad, not so vocal about most of my articles about shoes and make-up and so on, made it clear that any slagging off of ‘his’ Stretford Mall would not be tolerated.

He says: “It was a lot better a few years ago but Manchester Arndale and Trafford Centre are far too flamboyant for me, Stretford Mall brings me straight back to earth. I always find what I want.”

Back to earth with a crash more like. Where the effects of the recession can be disguised in the larger centres, Stretford Mall’s struggle is blatant and sobering to look at.

A centre shoppers have forgotten. And abandoned.

Img_5152Cue tumbleweed

Managing director of Stretford Mall, Colin McCory says, “It’s a case of use it or lose it. We get complaints such as, 'Oh, Argos has left.' Well, when was the last time you visited us?"

McCory explains: “If all these shops were making masses of profit they’d be here.

 “The big retailers are not going to sit and wait for business, if you’re not going to use them they’ll close down. If you just go to Town, The Trafford Centre and out of town shopping parks like Cheshire Oaks then the inevitable will happen.

“Our bed store has been with us for 40 years. The  manager's told me people come in, lie on the beds, then look underneath. He asks them what they’re doing, and they tell him they're looking for the name so they can go online and buy it cheaper.”

Undoubtedly people are trying to master shopping in difficult times by going online, but I'd assume people would not want to see their local Arndale go.

“Hopefully in the next five or five years we’ll increase footfall and get more retailers in. It’s the chicken and egg. We need more customers for more shops and more shops for more customers," says McCory

“It’s the smaller independent businesses that we want to focus on. Locals want the personal shopping experience, they want to come to a shop and have a shop owner say: “Hello Marge how are you?” People still want that personal experience.”

It’s true. The personal touch works for places like Stretford Mall. But even saying that, will independents really want to come to this type of shopping centre?

Fans of nearby Chorlton's indie scene prefer traditional streets not air-conditioned concrete hallways. The 70s precinct in Chorlton suffers from the same poor image as Stretford Mall.

More than anything else Stretford Mall appears lost in the wrong age. Even the subways under Chester Road seem somehow antique. 

A local pensioner, Barry, spots me instantly while I take pictures and calls me over. “I come here most days, I like the chat you see but it’s not what it used to be,” he said to me, shakily.

People shout, “Hi Barry,” as we chat for a bit, he kisses my hand as I leave and I’m left feeling all protective of Barry’s social centre and of course, my dad’s shopping sanctuary.

So, as I left I bought two sausage rolls.

Use it or lose it, after all.

Follow @LOreal_b on Twitter

Stretford Mall, Chester Rd, Stretford, Manchester M32 9BD. Open: Mon - Fri 8am-6pm, Sat 8am-6pm, Sun 10am-4pm

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

AnonymousDecember 12th 2013.

Two sausage rolls is that it? No wonder Shuffle City aka the Mall is in the state it is. If more people attempted the Greggs £5 lunch challenge then M32 and the world for that matter would be a better place. Wacko Jacko

JohnDecember 12th 2013.

Get yourself to swinton and eccles shopping metropolis and you will wonder what all the fuss is about. They prekky is mint, bring back the aquarium though, no mall is complete without a tank of infected terrapins. - Jaques Costeau

Dave SmithDecember 12th 2013.

Beautifully observed. I was a manager at Hardys the Furniture store in the late 70's and recall how vibrant this place was. A sad affair - parking fees don't help if you just want to pop in for a loaf or pie, same thing happened to Swinton when the council sold off the parking and fees were introduced - the market and precinct died right there. The Lowry is not safe either, it so needs to differentiate itself from the Trafford Center and truly become a 'discount shopping center' and build a reputation like Cheshire Oakes. I understand they have strict 'rules' about how much goods should be discounted by (something like 50% of the stock reduced by 70%). Eccles town center is also a disaster zone, not helped by poor planning and rate hungry councils. Look at the West One - what a desolate place that is too.

AnonymousDecember 12th 2013.

they should scale it back and re-do it to the architectural style of its 70s hay day - make it an architectural attraction in itself and get some more interesting shops in . Modernist shopping centres keep getting knocked down and efforts should be made to preserve those that are left (at least the good ones) before they are all just disregarded and demolished. Just looking at the photos above you can see what a stylish place it is underneath all the poor renovations and unnecessary updating. The recent casual demolition of the shopping centre in Hale Barns is a case in point.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
SteDecember 14th 2013.

Well said. Also, as Dave says; selling off & charging for parking is strangling these places too, Chorlton also struggles with this. Free parking, rent subsidies; the only way out of the spiral.

AnonymousDecember 14th 2013.

Subsidies for Chorlton. Has it become Harpurhey since I lift for the City?

Ghostly TomMarch 10th 2014.

I'm amazed that people are getting misty eyed and tearful about the demise of these astonishingly ugly 60s/70s shopping malls. They were of their time and now they are redundant. the Arndale in Manchester does well because of its location next to some of the best stores in the UK and because it tore half of it down and rebuilt to a standard that people expect now. Even there I rarely venture into the old part with its cramped malls and smaller stores. Stretford Mall needs to get a grip, reinvent itself and that's going to take a lot of money. Not to do it is going to have a bad effect on the area generally. Chorlton does this brilliantly with Manchester city centre 10 mins away on the tram and the Trafford Centre 15 mins away by car. It can be done but it needs the will to do it...

AnonymousDecember 12th 2013.

They're only going to attract independent business by offering them rents they can afford. Are they willing/able to?

AnonymousDecember 12th 2013.

Ugh! This whole topic is depressing!

Poster BoyDecember 12th 2013.

Brown and orange tinted nostalgia. It's finished. There is a future and it's called demolition and redevelopment.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Justin MorrisDecember 13th 2013.

Demolition and redevelopment is only an option if you have a viable alternative to what is there currently. What would you suggest? Social housing? A bigger car park? A huge supermarket? The Mall has been a victim of the recession (stores like Woolies and TJ Hughes), duplication of floorspace (Burtons, Dixons both with alternatives a short walk or bus away), plain unlucky with possibly the only Mcdonalds in history being shut down and landlord greed. The last meaning empty shops stay empty in the current economic climate. One shop closes and a reason for going disappears, the knock-on effect is that all shops lose a customer.I have no definitive answer, though I doubt demolition is it. But with plenty of vacant shops and an indoor market space begging for some fresh food stalls I hope the landlords see a future for the Mall.

Poster BoyDecember 13th 2013.

Befuddled.

AnonymousDecember 13th 2013.

The Mall is full of empty shops just like many high streets. There's nothing particularly different about Stretford except for the fact that all its town centre shops were put into one building. The Mall also provided much more shopping space than the town centre had had previously, which is why some units were never occupied or occupied for only a short time after the building opened. Those on the upper floor never really caught on.

AnonymousDecember 13th 2013.

Really well written piece this. Well done.

EllenDecember 13th 2013.

The owners of Stretford Mall should have made hay while the sun shone and invested in it when things were good. If I was a shop owner there, I would be annoyed that the owners are shrugging their shoulders and saying "recession's fault", when there has clearly been no investment in the building since, well, when was the last time? That said I live nearby and I love popping in for a bargain (due to all the cheapie shops) in spite of the aged surroundings.

AnonymousDecember 13th 2013.

In the early 70s they had a fountain/water feature and people threw copper coins into the pool at its base. During our lunch hour at Urmston Grammar we'd cycle to the Arndale and fish some money out to buy crisps and sweets.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 16th 2013.

Before going back into Urmston and thieving in Terry's.

Anna FraserDecember 14th 2013.

What a shame L`Oreal. I used to dash to The Arndale, buy a cheese savoury from Parker Bradburns and then dash back to teach you ! Happy Days.

Jodie ShardDecember 15th 2013.

Stretford 'Mall' used to be much better - I'm 31 now and as a kid we used to go there pretty often as the shopping in Urmston was even worse - I used to enjoy going there to the shops. Now, Urmston has its own renovated shopping precinct and supermarket (with free car park) and is still being developed, so a lot of people don't travel to Stretford now. I can honestly say that it's one of the most depressing places to go... and you have to pay for the car park... the subway makes me feel nervous and the atmosphere in there is awful. Nevertheless, I miss the argos and am sorry that the place is slowly dying.

AnonymousDecember 15th 2013.

I stopped going when they started charging for indoor parking.

James CreggDecember 16th 2013.

I understand that the rent prices are similar to that of the Trafford Centre. If that is true, it's no wonder shops are closing. Many years ago, plenty of local shops were shut down due to success of the precinct. I remember the butchers in Gorse Hill having the same moans as they are now having about Tesco. Many of us have good memories of visiting the precinct when we were children. Until recently I was all for keeping and improving it. Now when I drive past, I just think what an eye sore it is. It's too easy to get nostalgic about it, I'm sure if it was gone, people would find something else.

Trish KarneyDecember 16th 2013.

First thing first - make the parking charges redeemable against purchases in the mall. What the place really needs in an anchor store, preferably M&S, which will bring shoppers in from a wider area - the M&S at the Traff is unwieldy and awkward to access. The management could even offer them a peppercorn rent for 5 years - surely this is better than having rows of empty stores? As for the smaller stores and the market - can the centre management and Trafford Council not come together and create some form of "retail business incubator" which DOESN'T involve yet more phone shops selling cheap calls to Bangladesh or any of that tacky nonsense.

Hero
Frances GoddardDecember 16th 2013.

Stretford Mall has some great value brands, such as Wilkinsons and B and M, as well as one of the only Clarks shops outside of town and the TC. What is needed is an events programme that will support the existing retailers and attract new retailers. Capital Properties have done some fantastic turn around jobs in Manchester, London and Leeds. www.capitalpropertiesltd.com…

Paul HughesDecember 16th 2013.

Well I'm an ex (traditional) sweet shop owner who closed because of a newly opened Tescos ... I still have all my Stock and am desperate to find affordable premises .. But as sweets have such small margins I simply cannot afford shop premises. I now have just had to sign-on and am being forced into applying for jobs such as selling Kleeneze products door to door ... So I can only point fingers at greedy landlords who must be suffering aswell now because nobody can afford their prices ... Smart business indeed !! Pricing everybody out of business and I assume that means themselves aswell !!! #RIP

AnonymousDecember 16th 2013.

A rather sneering piece (with faux sympathy at the end) which manages to completely misunderstand why the Mall is going through difficult times i.e. it's the shoppers' fault. If you knew anything about retail you'd have taken the Mall manager up on this: “It’s a case of use it or lose it. We get complaints such as, 'Oh, Argos has left.' Well, when was the last time you visited us?" No it's because the Mall, managed by a huge insurance firm, prices retailers out of it. You'd also have looked at the surrounding architecture and roads and asked why the Council had allowed the town centre to become so unattractive and little more than a thoroughfare for south Manchester motorists. You could then have mentioned the new town master plan and asked why has it has taken so long to produce one (clue: Tory council doesn't worry about Stretford votes). You may also have done an analysis of the wider local economy which has lost many of the decent wage paying jobs since the Mall was opened in the early 70s. Finally you'd have had the wit to understand how a relatively small shopping centre finds it difficult to compete with multi-million pound developments at the Trafford centre and in the City Centre. I trust there was no fee for this amateurish guff.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldDecember 16th 2013.

Crikey Anonymous, such raw anger. To cover all those issues you mention would have taken a book and would have had to go much further than Stretford. That wasn't the aim of the piece in any case. It was meant to be an observational piece dealing with memory and a present day visit and chat to the manager. It delivered that well. Finally if you feel so passionately about this why be anonymous? L'Oreal's name is on the piece we know who she is, why are you hiding?

Phil MurphyDecember 16th 2013.

I think it would benefit from opening up the small traffic entrance from the A56. The sole exit on King St puts a lot of motorists off. If you charge people for parking there, which is plain daft, you should at least make it convenient for them to enter and leave. Such an alternative would reduce queueing to leave considerably. That along with another entrance/exit, at that part of the mall, would encourage visitors. Having an attraction over the road at the Essoldo would help too. A writer on the M32 group at FB recently let slip that the owner has been sympathetically restoring the interior over a long period. It would be an additional reason to visit on top of shopping. I fully support calls for resource assistance to retailers, that would help provide a fuller range of shops I would hope. With some heavy promotional commitment by larger retailers and the mall owners, over a long period, would help inject some footfall.

AnonymousDecember 16th 2013.

Stretford Arndale was where we went after school (stretford grammar) years ago. If you think of the stores that used to be in there (dixons, all sports, streetwise, woolworths, Mckenzies to name a few) they've disappeared in general. They failed to evolve in a rapidly evolving marketplace, and the arndale followed the same fate. Failure to re-invent, evolve and innovate as a retail space, only leads you one way especially if you cant compete with the hundreds of millions of pounds that Peel Holdings put into TC (which recently sold for over £2bn). Maybe it needs to target the local residents, rebuild the community, and then think about rebuilding a business.

Michael DillonDecember 29th 2013.

Well its like they say. You don't know just what you got until you lose it. It would be a huge loss if the Arndale were to close.

Julie DunsonMarch 9th 2014.

If Stretford lost the arndale it would become like a ghost town, I would be sad to see this happen. Although it has lost many great shops due to high rents, many locals still rely on the arndale for some it is their only link to a social life and they would be lost without it.

AnonymousAugust 31st 2014.

Not everyone drives. Are the residents of stretford expected to travel to Urmston for essentials? The trafford centre has no bargain shops and is too expensive for many. Stretford desperately needs something to maintain its identity. Maybe downsize, but don't get rid of a shopping centre. Reduced rent, rather than empty units please!!

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