In the two years since El Gato Negro opened in Manchester’s King Street, it looks like the arrival of the black cat has coincided with some much needed good fortune for a high-end shopping street that was decidedly down on its luck.
When Simon Shaw brought his award-winning modern Spanish restaurant from the Pennine village of Ripponden to Manchester city centre in February 2016, it was clear that King Street – former home to a host of world famous fashion brands – had seen better days.
But now, as Shaw’s 3-storey restaurant celebrates its second birthday and another year in the Michelin Guide with Bib Gourmand status, King Street is on the up.
It’s been quite a turn-round given gloomy reports about King Street’s prospects – caught between a rock and a hard place with rents too high for independent operators and units too small for major brands.
And on top of all that has been the impact of online shopping.
The exodus of leading brands from King Street over the last few years has been dramatic, including the likes of Laura Ashley, Kookai, Monsoon, Oasis, Hermès, Ted Baker, Gant, Emporio Armani, Calvin Klein, Jaeger, Reiss and Flannels. Virtually all of them have relocated within new Manchester city centre developments such as The Avenue in Spinningfields and New Cathedral Street.
Only last year one industry pundit claimed that “King Street just doesn’t work for modern retail.” Another claimed that King Street – and St Ann’s Square – were “stuck in time” and a consensus was growing that the street’s future lay with food and drink rather than fashion boutiques.
The closure of the ambitious Quill Restaurant, followed by Suri after just a few months added to the gloom.
But Terrance Langley, co-owner of Fazenda in Spinningfields, who was one of three directors who launched Suri, intends to re-open on the site with a Fazenda spin-off in summer.
There are far fewer empty units on King Street and St Ann’s Square has really taken off for retail, especially at ground level of the Royal Exchange Manchester.
Phil Schulze, manager of Manchester Business Improvement District (BID) team, confirmed the new optimism.
“In the last 18 months, St Ann’s Square has seen an influx of new retailers with Watches of Switzerland, Fjall Raven and French Connection all opening new stores in the stunning new Royal Exchange development while King Street has welcomed premium retailers Hawes & Curtis, Kiehls, Mint Velvet, Diverso and Jigsaw.”
DKNY, Diesel, Agent Provocateur, TM Lewin and Karen Millen remain in King Street and have been joined by others including Google Digital, Cath Kidson, Jack Wills and Charles Tyrwhitt.
“It’s not just retailers that have made King Street their home,” added Mr Schulze. “Its tenant mix has evolved from purely retail to a diverse mix of retail, food and drink and high-end accommodation, with the likes of El Gato Negro, Hotel Gotham and King Street Townhouse all contributing to affirm King Street’s position as one of the city’s premium shop, eat and stay destinations.
“There has also been a lot of hard work behind the scenes, with a concerted and determined drive from key organisations in the city centre, including Manchester BID, CityCo and Manchester City Council, to ensure King Street thrives, with a focus on connecting landlords and property agents to the council, street cleaning and the new King Street Festival which, over the last two years, has brought operators together to celebrate the street and showcase their offering, with each event bringing an additional 20,000 people to the area, an increase of around 70 per cent.
“In addition, Manchester is now a leading destination for both UK and international tourists throughout the year. There are city events marking everything from Chinese New Year to Halloween, all tempting visiting shoppers alongside their Mancunian counterparts, and helping sustain and expand the retail offer for the long term.
“Importantly, this is all underpinned by long term investments in the transport infrastructure meaning greater connectivity on the ground for city visitors and an ever increasing number of residential and office buildings as the city economy grows.
“All these factors are working together to make Manchester an increasingly attractive place to work, shop and visit. Throw in increasing numbers of hotels to further service a fantastic sporting, cultural and music scene and it all helps each business sector support one another, with retail very much a part of that.”