Why old furniture shop paints a bright future for Lord Street
Do you remember when the old The Furniture Emporium was on Lord Street in Southport?
It was good in its day, but after the firm’s closure the building remained empty and derelict for years. It wasn’t a good advert for the area.
Lord Street used to boast a number of good furniture stores, with the likes of T.R. Highton serving generations of Sandgrounders.
But times change. Today Lord Street doesn’t lend itself to the needs of a modern furniture retailer.
While it remains a stunningly beautiful boulevard, a really pleasant place to be, the needs of modern retailers have changed dramatically from when the frontages were first designed.
So when people bemoan ‘the decline of retail’ on Lord Street as the sign of a malaise in Southport as a whole, they are missing the point.
The BBC were here last week, focusing on the recent closure of Debenhams and the impending closure of Beales as signs of doom and gloom.
Some other media seem to have taken a similar tone, especially in a town famous down the years for its endless supply of top quality shops and its big department stores such as Beales, Debenhams, BHS, Broadbents, and Boothroyds.
But nostalgia should not cloud the reality of where we are now.
A few years ago the likes of The Furniture Emporium and Russell & Bromley were among empty former shops on the northern end of Lord Street. People complained about ‘too many charity shops’ and empty units and too little footfall. Beales and Debenhams add to the further contraction in retail. But this is a long-term trend, and a UK and international issue, not one that is particularly specific to Southport.
The Furniture Emporium however is a site which gives us hope. No longer fit for purpose, empty and derelict for years, it has since been completely tranmsformed by Mikhail Investments, led by local businessesman and entrepreneur Andrew Mikhail, into the very stlyish Lord Street Hotel.
The new venture has brought with it millions of pounds worth of new, private investment; new jobs; new opportunities; and has been a reason to attract new visitors into a previously vacant part of Southport town centre.
Andrew Mikhail has also led the substantial regeneration of The Bold Hotel, right across the road, as well as the bustling Punch Tarmey’s Irish theme pub.
Together they have joined together with other new hotels, bars and restaurants such as Peaky Blinders, Peaky Blinders Hotel, The Bottle Room, Copper & Ivy, Corridor, Deli Volare, Le Grog, Ronnie’s, Kokomo, Coopers, Sacre Bleu, Paul’s Bar and The Dog House, adding to established restaurants and bars including Auberge, The Windmill, The Guest House, Volare, Wetherspoons and Lords Café Bar to form the exciting Northern Quarter.
Russell & Bromley, the famous high-end shoe shop, has become incredibly busy as the Bistro Pierre French restaurant.
The recent opening of the exciting Bijou Cinema in the Northern Quarter area is another example of how there is opportunity and vibrancy here.
Sadly, for some reason, this vibrancy and these new businesses doesn’t seem to gain as many headlines as the closures, which is a shame for our town.
It is up to the grassroots community campaign group Stand Up For Southport and people who live in our town to try and correct that imbalance.
There is still scope for shopping along the northern end of Lord Street. There are some superb jeweller’s shops on this stretch for example, among others. And the more units are filled as the Northern Quarter regeneration gathers pace, then the more footfall this will create for potential future shop owners. It would be nice to see the government do more to further protect the retailers we do have. And people have to Shop Local to support our independents.
Losing Debenhams and Beales is sad for our town, especially for residents with many happy memories of the golden days of our huge ‘Are You Being Served’ style department stores.
But don’t expect the likes of John Lewis or House Of Fraser to move in any time soon to continue that lineage.
Do expect though, as the rest of the Northern Quarter and investors such as Andrew Mikhail have shown – that large, vacant units on one of Britain’s most picturesque streets suddenly becoming available will present tremendous opportunities to forward-thinking business people. The resulting ventures are unlikely to be entirely retail, and the uses may be creative.
Do expect lots of work taking place behind the scenes and a huge amount of discussions between potential developers and investors and senior officers from Sefton Council and Southport Business Improvement District (Southport BID).
These are rapidly changing times for Southport, and not all of that change is bad news. Much of it is, and will be, very good. Southport Pleasureland is about to undergo massive expansion, while a board has now been formed to bid for up to £25million regeneration funding under the government’s Town Deal scheme. £15million is being invested in the Bliss Hotel and Waterfront area. Good things are coming.
We just hope our town goes on to attract the positive headlines and bulletins we deserve, as well as the negative ones.