Few suburbs of any city could put on a Pants to Poverty fair trade fashion show. It’s one of those things that makes Chorlton the best place to live in the world. We have local shops that aren’t just for local people. Destinations like Unicorn Grocery, Barbakan and the Belgian Belly. The Beech Road experience of good quality boutiques. And Cosmo reckons the city centre on our doorstep beats Paris!
This weekend I caught up with a friend in a bar on the main strip that I hadn’t heard of before, Dulcimer. We were lured by the promise of fine ales for finer folk, but careful to pick a night when they didn’t have live folk music. It’s a big place over two floors, so those folk acts will be able to enjoy a sizeable crowd and on Thursday night it was comfortably busy.
Dulcimer has bounced the PDSA next door into a long closed and forgotten off licence. The RSPCA is on the other side, with Barnardo’s next to that. The unfortunate truth is that charity shops, pound stores and other neglected units still outnumber all the trendy stuff. But thanks to likes of Dulcimer it’s getting better.
But if local councillor Sheila Newman gets her way, this process of renewal could soon be brought to an end. Sheila Newman wants to ‘call time on the bar boom’.
Newman claims licensed retail kills the day time economy, but all those charity shops show that this is nonsense. Charity shops tend to occupy units on short term agreements at low or no rent because landlords would rather that than leave an empty shop to rot. A large number of charity shops means units are in low demand and Chorlton is an easy marketplace for retailers to enter. The bars are not squeezing anybody out… almost all the major charities are already represented.
The strip opposite Chorlton bus station has been dominated by charity, closed and occasionally burned out units for the eleven years I’ve lived here. Suddenly, a bar and two restaurants opened. Next thing we knew an upmarket French clothes boutique had found a slot among them. The boutique would never have gone there if licensed retail had not led the way.
Sadly Sheila Newman has anti-renewal Lib Dems biting at her heals and has joined forces with Lib Dem councillors in areas of the city dominated by student bars, which may be a different matter. Chorlton does not suffer the trouble associated with a booze culture; it’s a destination for more mature drinkers and diners.
Sheila’s stealing Lib Dem clothes has parallels with Gordon Brown’s stealing Tory inheritance tax rhetoric. And that rightly got him nowhere. At this rate we’ll be putting Ken Dobson, the Lib Dem councillor who opposed the Commonwealth Games, in charge of regeneration as part of a council of all the talents.