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'Blackpool doesn't work like a normal town': The 20 empty shops which tell a different story to the usual doom and gloom

LancsLive logo LancsLive 04/12/2022 Alice Suffield

On the surface, Blackpool town centre appears to tell a story heard in hundreds of other towns across the UK.

The seaside resort has now lost both of its markets, with Bonny Street closing for the last time earlier this year. Abingdon Street in not due to re-open fully until November 2033.

When LancsLive visited the centre of Blackpool earlier this week, we counted 20 empty shops, with the majority of these being on Talbot Road. But scratching the surface, residents and businesses were keen to tell a different story - one of a community on the verge of change.

READ MORE: Rough sleepers told they 'have to disappear' from Blackpool town centre twice a week

With the redevelopment of Blackpool Central, as well new shops in the former Debenhams in Houndshill Shopping centre, the town will look very different. Even if the green shoots will only really bear fruit in a few years time.

Val Cella and Lynn Sadurskis both used to have stalls on Abingdon Street Market. They have taken matters into their own hands during their former location's prolonged absence.

Along with three others, they combined their stalls and now all trade out of one shop - pulling the shutters up on a premises that would have otherwise been number 21 in our earlier count..

They think the future is bright for Blackpool's high streets.

Lynn said: "Talbot Street is where the majority of the empty shops are at the moment, but I think that's down the the new tram route. I think a lot of people aren't sure about what the trams will do for business, because they always used to be full.

"But round here, (Victoria Street) it's picking up. If you look round here, when these new shops come to the old Debenhams unit it'll attract loads more people to Blackpool. I don't think there's an empty shop in Houndshill Shopping Centre. The high-street is definitely bouncing back."

In November of this year, Blackpool Council and the Houndshill Shopping Centre management company, Ellandi announced the former Debenhams unit had been let to Frasers Group - the firm behind House of Fraser and Sports Direct.

They're aiming to transform the department store into an aspirational retail destination. In the centre of town, Frasers Group are also set to open a Flannels. The leading luxury retailer will bring a completely new experience to the shopping destination, allowing consumers to enjoy the very best brands in luxury fashion.

It's shops like these that Val and Lynn think will boost traffic Blackpool's streets. Val also believes events put such as Christmas by the Sea has helped helped the footfall higher this winter. Val added: "Christmas by the Sea has really boosted footfall because loads of people are coming to town for that. It looks really pretty. We have to be optemistic, but I honestly think next summer there will be a big turn around for the high street."

For some residents, it isn't about what the town will gain, it's about what it's lost. Kay Williams moved to Blackpool nearly a year ago from another seaside town on the other side of the country. She says that whilst there is a lot of empty shops but the loss of Bonny Street Market will impact the town more than anything else.

She said: "There's a lot of empty shops, definitely but there's no real market here anymore and that's what a lot of people came for especially in the summer. I used to point a lot of people in the direction of the market."

Bonny Street Market shut it's shutters for the last time on November 6 after nearly four decades of trading. The market will be sorely missed by traders and shoppers alike, with one woman telling Lancs Live that she comes every year from Rhondda Cynon Taff in Wales just to visit.

© James Maloney/Lancs Live

Daniel Carpenter works at Booze and News. He says he recognises that a town like Blackpool will struggle to compete with neighbouring cities, but it does well to keep bringing people back in.

He said: "When it comes to shopping here, you can't really compete with the likes of the Arnedale in Manchester. They are trying hard to regenerate Blackpool, but instead of doing it bit by bit when Blackpool was at its peak maybe 20 years ago, they've left it and now they're facing this huge uphill battle to modernise the place. If they'd have kept on top of it things may have been different

"Blackpool is still alright during the summer, it is still busy. For us where we are, we get a lot of footfall from Central carpark, but now that's closed we don't get it the same. Hopefully with the new regeneration, in years to come it will bounce back.

"Blackpool doesn't work the same as a normal town. We rely so much on tourism in the summer and it's ridiculously intense, and then it's a ghost town in the winter, but if you make enough money in the summer you'll be alright.

"What Blackpool does well is events. Things like Christmas by the Sea, the Fireworks, Winter Gardens, it all brings people to Blackpool, it gives them a reason to come here and spend money. It's just hard this time of year because who wants to come into town when its cold."

Mark Duxbury co- owns Fidget Corner on the corner of Bank Hey Street and Victoria Street. He thinks that Blackpool needs bigger names to draw people in.

He said: "There's nothing to really bring them in to the centre, there's only really the likes of Primark and TK Maxx that bring them in. What Blackpool needs is some big names to get people in and get them shopping.

"The new shops opening in Houndshill like that House of Fraser should do the trick I think. Flannels will be good too. Nice shops will bring people in. It is a tourism town but the people that live here deserve nice places to shop.

"We cater very much towards the tourists side of things so we struggle a bit more in the down season. you've got to make money in the summer and if you work hard enough you'll make it through the Winter.

"Something like free parking in the Winter I think would help too. Make as much money as you like in the winter from the car parks but if they made it free over winter it would encourage more people to come into town."

Alan Cavill, Blackpool Council Director of Communications and Regeneration, said: “Blackpool has a very robust strategy for regeneration aimed at attracting more businesses of different sizes to set up across the town.

“Although, there may be some empty shops this is partly due to when Houndshill Shopping Centre was extended a few years ago and some businesses moved into its retail unit leaving shops vacant elsewhere.

“However, along with many other ongoing regeneration projects the arrival of 3000 civil servants into a town centre site that we are building for them is a major initiative to increase footfall permanently in the town centre that should encourage more local trading outlets to open.

“In the shorter term we have a very strong offer for the Christmas and New Year period which includes incredible entertainment and attractions, as well as a special discounted offer giving three hours of parking for just £1 on most Blackpool Council car parks to generate footfall.”

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