From high street to food court – how Preston city centre is changing face once again
Written by Skywave Radio News on August 7, 2022
High streets, many people will tell you, are fading – places where you have to adapt or die.
Preston’s Fishergate is no stranger to the years of hardship experienced by similar streets all over the UK. But its tale isn’t one just of failure. This is one of reinvention.
For the handful of business owners who survived the pandemic, economic turmoil wasn’t over. They were thrown head-first into a cost of living crisis, with record-breaking inflation rates.
On August 4, 2021, LancsLive visited the shopping street and found the pandemic had destroyed enterprises lining both sides of the high street. ‘It’s just one thing after another’ is what many business owners would agree upon.
Fishergate is part of Preston’s history – for decades this has been a city recognised for its booming high street. But its face irreversibly changed. Dozens of dark, derelict shopfronts stood along Fishergate blemishing the city centre.
The post-apocalyptic images were unlike any seen before. Any of few customers who remained loyal to the city centre were barred by lockdown restrictions.
While society has ‘returned to normal’ or the ‘new normal’, LancsLive revisited Fishergate 12 months later and found a very different High Street rising from the ashes of the pandemic.
Since 2019, the nation has lost some of its biggest chains – the likes of Debenhams and Topshop are no more. In cities like Preston, these huge stores still remain vacant, acting as a permanent reminder of what the nation has gone through.
Elsewhere, units that stood empty are filling up. There are increasing numbers of shoppers, friends, families but most don’t have bags in their hands.
But where there were once shops, now stand eateries and food courts. On Fishergate alone, there are nearly a dozen filling up the empty space. Ten of these have opened up within the last year, bringing with them a new kind of visitor.
They come for food, and discover the rest later.
The newest and most popular arrivals on the block are food chains like Mowgli, Revolution and Slug & Lettuce. The trio dominate the bottom half of the high street, claiming their spots with bright and flashy shop fronts screaming of lavish glamour.
But they aren’t the only new kids in town . Local chains like Eat Indian, and independent eateries like Saladishy and Greekouzina have made their mark in the city. Preston’s high street is quickly becoming a hotspot for great dining.
Nick Carter, of Baluga in Miller Arcade is now the opening a new ale house, Hopwoods Tap House. He told LancsLive: “There’s less shops and people are now shopping online and at places like shopping parks instead.
“During the day it’s very quiet for us with there being less footfall on the high street during the day so there’s less people to attract into the businesses we’re running. We have to make our venues destination venues to get more people to them, so putting on events, good marketing, we offer something not just only at the place but with good service too.
“Previously people would come into town for a shopping trip where there were five or six different shops so they pop into our businesses for a coffee or a drink. We don’t have that anymore, we now have to attract people directly to the venue instead.
“I do think it is gradually improving but we need more to attract people with better businesses like big department stores.”
Further down the high street is a coffee house and restaurant that has seen more change than most – part of the fabric of the city since 1932. Brucciani’s has kept it’s prominent spot on Fishergate for decades, but current manager Cheryl says the last two years after lockdown have been the biggest change to business she’s seen.
“We used to be busy every single day of the week… I mean, we’re still busy and we’re still busy compared to some businesses, but not the same as it used to be. I’d say even since Covid, we’ve lost a lot of trade,” Cheryl said.
“And obviously, stock prices have gone up so we’re having to pay more for stocks, so our prices have gone up as well and I know it’s not the best for things, but we just can’t help it. Although there’s a lot of restaurants popping up, a lot of shops have closed down.
“I don’t think the trade in some of the new places is even what it should be because people are obviously struggling for money as well. Bill prices, rent prices, everything’s going up so yeah, it’s it’s hard for everybody I think we have days where we’re rammed all day but also days where no one’s here and you can never predict it in this place ever, it’s unpredictable.
“A lot of people will go further afield to find what they want now, they go to Manchester for the day because you know, it has everything that they need. Now there’s been another gap in trade with the cost of living going up.”
While some business have felt the strain of the ‘new’ high street others have found it to be a welcoming place for their new ventures. Mohsin Bux, manager of Eat Indian Preston says Preston’s high street has been a success – but it “isn’t the same anymore”.
“The high street in Preston has helped us to get along with all our customers and make new customers as well. Business has been good and we’ve not had any problems here… But as a customer, I think the city centre from when I was younger to what it is now is not the same.
“There was a lot more you can go to. There’s a lot of shops that have closed down so it doesn’t look very appealing.”
Shopping in town when she spoke to LancsLive, 76-year-old Christine Blakemore has lived just outside of Preston her whole life. Sheregularly visits the city centre once a week but she says recently, there hasn’t been much to come for.
She said: “Most of the main shops are closed down, there’s just like you know the obvious ones like River Island, Marks and Spencer, the main ones are still there but there’s not much in shopping now in Preston. It’s changed a lot, which is a shame but it just needs more money investing in the in the city really to attract people.
“I come and I go to a couple of shops then I go home, which is a shame. It’s a pity like some of these stores like Debenhams have closed down, some of the bigger stores, they could do something with it you know, for like small businesses to open up little boutique shops and things like that.
“I think little boutique shops are far more attractive, you know, they’re independent and it’s something different as well, but we don’t seem to have much of that in Preston.”
Cheryl Arnold, 53, says for her, seeing shutters down along the side streets of the city centre isn’t a nice sight to see. “A lot of the places has closed now but that was because of Covid,” she said. “You’ve got the new food places and we’ve been to a few of the new places. There aren’t as many shutters down as they was and they can be off putting.”
It’s clear to see Fishergate is doing its best to make up for lost time during the pandemic. And while online shopping filled the high street shaped hole in most people’s lives, most new businesses are banking on take out food being unable to fill the void left by the hustle and bustle of a busy local restaurant.