The iconic Victorian Arcade has been hailed as a growing town centre success story, with every unit filled as of this week.
Businessman and owner Tariq Aslam told the Observer that his ambitious plans are finally coming to fruition at the Warner Street arcade.
The Grade II-listed building in Accrington – which is believed to be the first indoor shopping arcade of its kind in the country – was taken over by TNR Developments Ltd in October 2013.
Mr Aslam said: “Looking into Accrington two years ago, the arcade was visibly different but things now have rejuvenated and we’ve been getting people back. Accrington is unfortunately a bit of a gloomy place at the moment but this is something really positive there.”
Mr Aslam, who also runs the Paxton Mill Accident Repair Centre on Willows Lane in Accrington, says they have a host of ‘unique’ traders joining the arcade.
He said: “We’re getting a different kind of business that are unique - like the darts shop, the vinyl shop – and because they’re unique people are coming in specifically for that, and also enjoying the architecture.”
The turning point for the arcade was down to the installation of new secure electric doors, according to Mr Aslam.
The 48-year-old said: “The doors have made the building more secure and also it protects the arcade from the elements.
“Before the doors we had our works unit broken into twice, people just used to use it as a short cut to get through from Church Street to Abbey Street but now it’s created a different environment, more of a cosmopolitan indoor feel.”
Mr Aslam, who has lived in Accrington for more than 20 years, says that he next intends to renovate the offices above the arcade into town centre apartments.
He said: “It’s a labour of love. From where we took over the building, which was back in October 2013, it’s a huge achievement.
“I am glad that we didn’t give up and we have got to where we are now and can see the results.
“Hopefully we have got the arcade to a new level. Everybody’s absolutely buzzing.”
Looking forward, Mr Aslam plans to celebrate a ‘Dickensian’ Christmas in the arcade with a living 20ft tree taking pride of place.
Hyndburn council leader Miles Parkinson said: “I am pleased with the investment that is being put into such a historic building in Accrington as the Arcade, and hopefully with the new traders it will be very successful.”
Dramatic reversal of fortunes for historic Arcade
In 2011 the Victorian Arcade in Accrington was left with nine empty units after traders moved out of the Grade II-listed building and one major retailer downgraded from six units to one.
But now the arcade is a major success story for the town with every unit filled in a major reversal of the shopping centre’s fortunes.
Since April this year a host of new traders have taken on units in the Victorian Arcade, and for many this is their first step into the world of high street trading.
They explained why they are taking a chance on the Arcade.
Elaine George was one of the first newcomers to set up shop in the arcade, joining incumbent residents Grandma’s Victorian Kitchen, Y and K Boutique and Choices Furniture in April.
Elaine, 46, from Accrington, decided to launch her own gift and sweetshop - ‘Fifi’s Gifts’ - in the arcade after her home business making ‘chocolate bouquets’ became successful.
She said: “I was just working from home, so it was a little bit of a hobby, but it got bigger and I needed a premises, and I have never looked back. I absolutely love the arcade. When I first came the footfall was OK, but it’s doubled since then if not more.”
Elaine and her 18-year-old daughter Abbie are now getting ready to expand and open a craft shop ‘Cre-8-ive Crafts’ in the next-door unit, which will be a local supplier and run workshops.
Thomas Michaela, and George Fisher run a custom tattoo studio ‘One Blood Tattoo’ specialising in freehand lettering, that opened on June 1.
Thomas said: “Business is good, everybody wants tattoos. Everyday it’s got busier. I saw the building and approached Tariq because I wanted to be a part of this.
"I believe in the place, it’s got a really good vibe. It feels like home.”
Trader Sandra Lee runs a ‘Build-A-Bear’ workshop in the arcade, and is also preparing to move into fancy dress supplying.
She said the strong connection she had with the building inspired her to take up one of the units.
Sandra said: “When I was little my family used to bring me every Saturday to this cafe and I always said when I retire I want a shop here.
“It was always my dream to have a shop in the arcade in Accrington. I am not leaving this shop now I’ve got it.”
Karen Everleigh and her son Mark are some of the old guards of the Arcade, with their cafe Grandmas’ kitchen open for 18 months.
They say that after some difficult times they have decided to expand the business and opened ‘Grandad’s Coolies’ next door on July 15 to specialise in smoothies and milkshakes.
Karen said: “We were here in the quiet times and we stuck it out because of the building, that’s why I took the cafe. We used to come shopping in the arcade when I was a kid.
“Now it’s getting there after a long fight. It’s 100 per cent better than what it was.
“We are getting customers coming in and saying how nice it is to come back to the cafe. We haven’t had any negativity.”
Accrington resident Anthony Mabbutt launched his record shop Linyl Vinyl Records in the arcade at the beginning of June.
The 57-year-old said: “I used to have a shop above Warner Street but didn’t get the footfall.
"The arcade is my favourite building in Accrington, I’ve always liked it. When I saw that the place was filling up, and there is a lot more footfall I decided to get in on it.
“It was an opportunity not a risk. It’s been my life-long dream to have a place like this.”
Darts enthusiast Michael Pearson has has begun selling a wide range of darts equipment at ‘9 Dart Finish’.
Michael, 52, allows his customers to actually test out the darts in store on his own dartboard, something he believes is unique in the area.
The father-of-three opened the shop in June, and admitted that some people thought he was ‘crazy’ to be going into such a niche market, but says business in the arcade is picking up steam nicely.
He said: “I looked at this unit and, they are doing really well, the units are really filling up. We are really trying to make a good go of it in the arcade. It’s been good so far.”
The newest traders in the arcade are Lindsey Condon and Andrew Campbell, who confirmed their lease on Wednesday, August 10 - just a day after viewing the unit.
The couple from Rishton run a baby clothes and accessories business online and from home, but wanted to upgrade to a shop to get a name for their business on the high street.
Andrew said: "We have been searching for our premises for a long time.
“We wanted to be somewhere like this that is on the up and someone is investing in, and unfortunately you can’t say that about anywhere else in the town centre. The prices we have been seeing in Accrington are so high, they’re Manchester, Preston prices.
"There’s no realism there. It’s nice to see someone being realistic about things and local business.”
The arcade is also home to a hairdressers, antique store, and florist.