Leeds, like many other cities across the world, is continually changing when it comes to what makes up its ‘high street’. In the past this process was quite slow, and shops would last for decades – however, that is no longer the case.
In recent years, strong competition from the internet, combined with other commercial pressures has seen some of the biggest and quickest changes on the British high street since the mid-1960s. Back then the modern shopping centre concept was still new. In fact, the Merrion Centre – which recently celebrated its 52nd birthday and is situated at the top end of Leeds city centre – was the first shopping centre to open its doors in England, and did so in 1964.
A lot has changed since then – even since the 80s and 90s when I was a boy growing up in Leeds. It certainly didn’t have anywhere near the variety of shops, restaurants and bars that it enjoys today. However, these retail outlets tend to change rapidly.
I think it is fair to say that Leeds has benefited well from growth in recent years, attracting the Trinity shopping centre, and Victoria Gate, which will open this autumn. I think we, and future generations, can owe a lot to those who had a hand in this, and the companies that chose to invest in Leeds in this digital age – a time which is clearly high risk for brands persisting with a physical presence on the high street.
The Victoria Gate retail development
On that note, take a look at this cool video of the Harewood and Eastgate Quarters, and the demolition that took place when preparing the site for the new Victoria Gate retail development.
The new Victoria Gate site being cleared by concrete cutting jaws in 2014.
Turn back time to 2008
Today, by chance, I found the following Google street view of Leeds city centre taken back in 2008 – in the middle of the credit crunch.
It allows you to walk up Albion Street from the junction on Boar Lane and down Commercial Street, towards Briggate. The changing landscape, and the number of businesses which have gone for good really struck me – so much so I felt the need to write this article about it.
Here are some of the shops and brands that have closed their doors. Note: this is a small section of Leeds’ shopping area, and the below list doesn’t include smaller shops or food & drink outlets.
Major retail brands no more:
- [Bust] Let’s start off with BHS on the left hand side, which has just closed its doors forever.
- [Bust] Then on the right you’ll see MK One, which went into administration in 2009.
- [Bust] Then back on the left you’ll see JJB Sports, which was forced into administration in October 2012, with some assets stripped and sold off to Sports Direct.
- [Merger] On the right you’ll see First Choice. TUI are phasing both the First Choice and Thomson brands out.
- [Bust] The management buyout of Zavvi in 2007 was rather short-lived as this went bust in December 2008, not long after this Google Maps image was taken. You’ll see this shop on the left hand side of the street.
- [Takeover] Moving onto Commercial Street, the next major brand to disappear was the Britannia Building Society, which was obviously a very hard lesson for the Co-op Bank, who used to boast about not taking risks.
- [Closed] The Leeds branch of ALDO, which you’ll see on the left hand side of the street, closed down.
- [Bust] Also on the left is Clintons Cards, which was forced into administration by their main US supplier, who subsequently took some of the assets and then re-branded the company under a new child company. Clinton Cards has since reopened where 02 used to trade on Commercial Street.
- [Bust] Directly opposite the old Clintons is Barratt Shoes, or should I say was? In and out of administration for several years, before the brand and website were sold to the former merchandising director (a true indication of the advantages of operating online only).
- [Bust] Next, on the opposite side of the road, is phones4u, which collapsed in 2014.
- [Rebrand] After a period of time known as Abbey under Santander UK, in 2010 the bank was fully re-branded under the Santander branding.
And that’s about it! Quite a lot of businesses have disappeared from this small section of Leeds in a matter of a few years.
So with recent warnings about the UK economy slowing down, combined with the ever increasing shift toward buying more online, I wonder what the high street will look like in another decade – especially post-Brexit.
In June this year the Office for National Statistics said on the matter on internet shopping:
The value of online sales increased by 14.1% in June 2016 compared with June 2015, and increased by 0.5% compared with May 2016.