The proud business owners sticking it out at Manchester shopping precinct until the very end

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It's all set for demolition ahead of a complete overhaul that will include 200 new homes.

It’s the end of an era for Chorlton, where residents are preparing to say goodbye to the  shopping precinct after 50 years in the community. 

Built in 1973, the shopping centre and adjacent Graham House office building are due to be demolished ahead of a complete overhaul. Under the new plans, which are due to be submitted for approval early this year, the precinct would be replaced with around 200 new homes, as well as retail units. Around 20% of these homes will be affordable. 

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The precinct buildings may be dated and unsightly now, but it was home to shops like Boots and Quality Save, as well as charity shops, discount shops and a greengrocer. Most of the businesses in the precinct have now closed their shutters for good and there are just four shops still standing – Timpson’s, W.H. Frost’s Butchers, Chorlton Art Market and the Chorlton Crafts and Gifts haberdashery. Some have found alternative premises, while others are facing uncertainty.

We went to visit the precinct in its final days to talk to shop owners about what the closure means for their businesses and the community at large. 

Chorlton Cross shopping precinct is preparing to close down. Only a handful of shops remain open. Chorlton Cross shopping precinct is preparing to close down. Only a handful of shops remain open.
Chorlton Cross shopping precinct is preparing to close down. Only a handful of shops remain open. | Manchester World

What’s happening to the businesses?

One of the businesses still searching for a new home is Chorlton Art Market, an Aladdin’s cave of jewellery, cards, incense, vintage clothes and art made by local independent makers. It has been trading out of the precinct for the past nine years, and for the last six it has been co-owned by Esme Straine Francis. They are set to close for good on Sunday, January 14 and Esme says the build-up to it has been “surreal”.

She said: “There's nothing moving forward, so that’s a bit daunting. I've had to field non-stop customer questions, which I understand, but now they're starting to get really upset that we're not going to be there. It's just been really sad.

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“Because we sell on behalf of more than 50 individual crafters, it's really sad because we've got to say goodbye to every one of them, they've got to come and get their stuff. It's just really weird now with everything closed. I don't know how I feel to be honest. I'll probably cry in about two weeks when it's all sorted out.”

Chorlton Art Market will close on Sunday 14 January Chorlton Art Market will close on Sunday 14 January
Chorlton Art Market will close on Sunday 14 January | Manchester World

Esme also feels that support for the outgoing shops like hers has been lacking. A group from the council came to visit, handing out information with basic advice like ‘how to set up a website,’ which Chorlton Art Market already has. They were also supposed to bring an estate agent, but they did not come to Esme’s shop. 

She said: “The only other thing they offered was to pass their details on to all of our clients so they could find them other places. I was like: 'So you're asking me to give you my business, my clients?'.

“It would have been great if there had been some sort of scheme to help us move on, but there really wasn't. There's no funding help, there's no help to maybe negotiate with landlords, get you a better deal, there was none of that. They just said there was nothing they could do about it.”

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Manchester World has reached out to Manchester City Council for comment. 

Fortunately, W.H. Frost’s do have somewhere to go once the precinct closes. Peter, one butchers at the shop, told Manchester World that they will be moving to a farm and focusing on the commercial side of the businesses, continuing to supply restaurants in and around Manchester. 

He added: “There's a view to possibly to do a farm shop later on in the summer and we're going to be setting up home deliveries, so the local people can still get what they want, but that will be done via the internet.”

Peter at W.H. Frost Butchers in Chorlton precinct, which is soon to be demolished.Peter at W.H. Frost Butchers in Chorlton precinct, which is soon to be demolished.
Peter at W.H. Frost Butchers in Chorlton precinct, which is soon to be demolished. | Manchester World

Rory, who works at Timpsons, says he’s “letting things go over my head at the moment so I don't stress out about it". Most of the communication about the precinct closure has gone through the head office and for now is uncertain what it all means for him.

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It’s a different story for the haberdashery and craft shop. There are only a handful of items still for sale at that shop, including the shop fittings. Sandra who was manning the shop for her friend, the owner, said they will be retiring once the shop had closed. 

What does this mean for the community?

According to the staff we spoke to, and from what we saw during our visit, the customers visiting the remaining shops in the precinct are sad to see them go. A customer in Timpsons was asking for updates on whether there will be a new shop opening in Chorlton, while another customer in the haberdashery said she didn’t know where she would be able to get her craft supplies.

Rory at Timpsons in Chorlton Precinct, which is closing down ahead of demolition. Rory at Timpsons in Chorlton Precinct, which is closing down ahead of demolition.
Rory at Timpsons in Chorlton Precinct, which is closing down ahead of demolition. | Manchester World

As with many town centres in Greater Manchester, these traditional shops like butchers, greengrocers and haberdashers are disappearing from high streets thanks to the prominence of supermarkets and online shopping. 

Sandra explained: “Customers are really upset –  really, really upset. Because you can't buy the stuff we sell, or sold, anymore. There's nothing anywhere. When I think back, going back a few years now, there were four or five wool shops in Chorlton, one in Sale, one in Urmston, one in Altrincham – they've all gone. There's nothing.”

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Chorlton Crafts and Gifts is closing down ahead of the precinct's demolition. Chorlton Crafts and Gifts is closing down ahead of the precinct's demolition.
Chorlton Crafts and Gifts is closing down ahead of the precinct's demolition. | Manchester World

Peter at the butchers said: “It's a sad shame. It's a loss to the local community. It might affect people's employment as well. The customers are going to have to go to places like supermarkets, because the greengrocers closed, this has closed, Quality Save was a handy shop to have. When they knock it all down there won't be a big car park, so they're going to be affected where they can park. There's only going to be a few units looking after Manchester Road, but what they'll come in at, I don't know.”

There are also concerns over how long the redevelopment will take. Consultations on the One Chorlton project by the PJ Livesey Group closed in early December and, according to the timeline on the website, they are due to be submitted early this year. 

Most shops at Chorlton precinct are now closed down. Most shops at Chorlton precinct are now closed down.
Most shops at Chorlton precinct are now closed down. | Manchester World

Esme said: “My fear is, because I live in Chorlton as well, it's my community, my fear is that it's going to sit derelict for years until they actually do something. And until it's all done, and it's part of the community again, it's just going to be this blackhole.”

Similarly, Rory said: “I've seen a little bit of the plans, but I've had to let things go over my head. Certain things, they said it was going to be two years, three years. In reality, it's going to be five years. I believe that the plans haven't been finalised, yet we've still all had to get out. It just goes to show that where there's a will there's a way when they want something doing, it is going to get done, no matter what the community says.”

More information about the plans for Chorlton can be found on the project’s website. There is also a photo exhibition remembering Chorlton precinct at Chorlton Library.

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