Altrincham defies affluent town image with empty shops

June 19, 2012 2:51 pm

One of many useful pupil sign posts in Altrincham

Please note, you can read the original article by Mancunian Matters, here: Recession-hit high streets: Altrincham’s empty shops at odds with affluent market town’s image

As the recession hits many high streets, the LDC (Local Data Company) published in 2010 that Altrincham had one of the largest proportions of empty shops nationwide. This is all despite the fact that the town is one of the wealthiest areas in the North of England, and is known for its high standard schools and low crime rates. Additionally, the town population is made up of nearly 50% of senior level professionals and managers compared to the national average of 25.9%. So why does Altrincham currently have such a high percentage of empty shops? Matthew Hopkinson, Director at the LDC, said:

“Altrincham may have a lot of affluent people living there but the question is, do they shop there? The figures suggest not.”

These are just assumptions at this point and there may be many other factors, however he goes on to say that with Altrincham being based so close to Manchester and the Trafford Centre, that many are choosing to visit larger retailers with a greater range, and are competing with popular brand stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch and American Apparel. He goes on to say:

“If you could be dropped from a helicopter in Manchester or Altrincham to spend fours hours of your day where would you go? Of course you don’t need a helicopter – the Trafford Centre is only 13 minutes drive away and the free parking and cheap supermarket petrol help make up the cost of going. A breakdown of Altrincham’s retail sector shows that currently 25.7% of units are vacant and only 60% of shops are independents, compared with 66% nationally. For a historic market town like Altrincham to have so few independents is surprising especially taking into account the 2.4% rise in independents nationally last year.”

Altrincham Forward (AF), an initiative setup by business leaders and key stakeholders in the area has been put together to help revitalise the town (you can see their latest plans here: Altrincham Forward Plan Agreed). Business leaders from the North West were brought into AF because they are fully aware that the revival will be commercially led. The Altrincham Trafford Council and AF lead, Helen France, said:

“We want to breathe life into the town by creating an offer that is unique to Altrincham. It’s not simply about filling retail space with more shops but having a mix of retail, leisure, and events.”

There are plans to use the empty retail space for many other purposes on a temporary basis until they can be filled on a more permanent basis. This will improve the overall look of the town centre high street, as well as attracting visitors and additional footfall. This can include art galleries, cafes, restaurants, learning centres and much more.

Another issue which seems to be quite prominent within Altrincham is the number of large Supermarkets including Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s. Although many believe that the supermarkets are a good thing (because they provide lots of local jobs, and bring people to the town), a lot of business owners believe that they are taking a large slice of their custom. They say that although some supermarket customers may also visit the town while doing their weekly grocery shopping, they believe that this is only a small percentage of people. Additionally, as they increase their service offerings and range of products, there is slowly becoming less need to venture into the town. Smaller retailers are concerned that the supermarkets will eventually just wipe them out.

It would seem that most residents and shoppers in Altrincham want the historic market revitalised, and that this will bring the additional custom to the high street to help the town thrive again. However, the key information from the LDC data suggests that although this will certainly help, retailers need to realise that things are changing. The way people shop and the state of the economy are all important factors. Matthew Hopkinson from LDC said:

“Retail is changing so don’t sit in your shop and think you can continue as before. The high streets that will survive are the ones that best manage this change.”

There is no reason why the high street retailers and Altrincham can’t adapt to the changes, and not only improve the area but also become one of the pioneers to show other high streets in the area how to to move forward.

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