It’s Thursday afternoon, and the delivery guy is unloading a handful of boxes destined for TM Lewin, the fancy shirt suppliers at the Met Quarter.

“We never deliver much here,” he tells Sevenstreets, “our policy is only to deliver when the existing stock has been sold. So, basically, we’re only delivering a handful of new lines every week.”

Death of a Salesman?

The result? TM Lewin in the Met Quarter doesn’t get the sharp new designs – the latest must have colour combinations for sharp-dressed city slickers – until last season’s stock has, eventually, slunk off the shelves. Hardly ideal for a destination which prides itself on its fashion credentials.

“The Trafford Centre does such good business that they’re always getting the new ranges in first,” he says, adding: “It’s dead here.”

Talk of death might be exaggerated but, front of house, the Met Quarter’s certainly looking peaky. With every new closure, the fashion mall looks ever more gap-toothed and becomes less of a destination, and more a cut-through from Victoria Street to Liverpool One. We’ve just counted nine empty stores. And, roughly, 19 shoppers.

They’ve a name for this in retail circles. The Met Quarter is fast becoming a Ghost Box.

And how long do we give Flannels, now that it’s opened up in Liverpool One? Will it, like Kirsty Doyle before it, simply accept that this town ain’t big enough for two branches?

Even on payday weekends, the central avenue of the Met Quarter is hushed, calm and crowd-free, when it should be bustling and animated. And plenty have tried to make it so.

Dawn of the Dead: Thursday afternoon

Mark Paddock attempted to add some life into the proceedings with his Smoothie Express bar. “It just wasn’t worth it,” he says, “they wanted £25,000 a year in rent, and there was no way that anyone could recoup that. There just wasn’t the footfall. Some mornings you’d be lucky if you saw more than a handful of people.”

The site, rising from the shell of the city’s old Central Post Office, was opened in 2006 after half a century’s neglect and dithering – the Walton Group sitting on the rubble until Milligan bought it in 2004.  Milligan had previous, dubious, experience in creating loftily ambitious ‘designer’ malls.  Opening The Triangle in Manchester’s spruce new post-bomb development, they presided over a retail black-hole aimed at ‘Manchester’s Urban Achievers’ (you can see those deathly demographic profiler Powerpoints flashing in your head, can’t you?)

The Triangle bombed. It’s now owned by The Morley Fund, who tell us “It’s become the centre of fashion, culture and leisure for the young.”

It hasn’t. It’s a space scrabbling for a soul.

Milligan have bailed out of the Met Quarter too. Today it’s owned by Anglo Irish Bank Private Banking and Alanis Capital.

So why don’t we visit this £100million pound addition to the city’s retail offering. And what can we do to save it? Because, despite the fact that Samsonite’s gone, we still want the Met Quarter to succeed. We couldn’t live without our Molton Brown, and Paperchase usually comes up with the goods. So let’s see if we can’t turn this thing around, eh?

1) Raise The Roof

Pity the Met Quarter – it spent most of the money on erecting a new ceiling for the roofless shell, just when everyone else realised that Mall 2.0 was resolutely roof free. Take Liverpool One – its South John Street and Paradise Street developements are proudly open to the elements. Add a roof – and, crucially, a door – and the mall becomes closed off: somewhere you visit for a need, rather than to stroll through and browse. Lift the roof off the Met Quarter and watch the footfall flow back. Unless it’s raining, of course.

At the corner of Third Street and Fairfax Boulevard in Los Angeles, The Grove shopping centre is, to all intents and purposes, a mall. But it – like Liverpool One – is open to the elements. The plants are real, the air is fresh, and the accent is on ‘leisure’, not just ‘retail’.  It opened in 2002 and revolutionised the retail landscape –  plenty of time for Milligan, if they’d have done their research, to follow the acknowledged shopping capital of the world, and see the way the wind was blowing.

This year, every new shopping centre built in the USA will be roofless. Even in decidedly chilly Massachusetts – so don’t talk to us about Liverpool’s temperamental climate. If we’re hard enough to shop in our PJ’s and rollers, we can handle a little drizzle, thanks.

Move along people: nothing to see here

The Met Quarter PR Machine made a big noise, when it opened, about having ‘the world’s largest sculpture’ on its ceiling. In reality, it’s just a fancy light fitting – but it might well be a candidate for the world’s biggest retail mistake.

2)  Ditch the Demographics

Why do we continue with the illusion that, to be successful, you need to pitch at the Urban Achievers? The Marketing Department’s wet dream: the young, affluent, stylish and totally illusory. The further down Niche Avenue you go, the less likely you are to stand a chance in this city (see also Champu – Herbert’s Champagne Bar). London’s Neil’s Yard area is a brilliant example of how top end fashions, funky independents, snack shops and pop-up boutiques can mix and mingle, and attract shoppers of every hue. Not just orange. Sure, you can focus on the fabled A’s and B’s in London or Tokyo, but, back in the real world, we’ll mix our Armani Exchange with our Primark – so why fear jumbling up the retail offer a bit? Has the Met Quarter been too selective in its mix?

3) Join The Dots

For all Liverpool BID’s campaign to ensure the smooth transition between Liverpool One and the city’s old shopping core, there’s a definite feeling, as you walk away from Liverpool One towards the Met Quarter, you’re leaving Paradise (Street) behind. It’s not just the temporary gadget shops, or the crap busker statues dressed in soiled sheeting. It’s the smell. Nowhere in the city smells worse than the drains of Whitehall Whitechapel. Yes, we know that’s where the ancient ‘pool’ of Liverpool once flowed. But, really, we can do without the history lesson. Have a coffee outside Fratellis on a particularly pungent day and you can practically taste the effluent. We don’t know what BID’s plans are. But we’d suggest this 100 metre stretch is the biggest gap in the city (and that’s even since Gap moved out) – and needs urgent attention.

4) Add some Fun

Since when did shopping have to be so serious anyway? For the Met Quarter to really seize the initiative (and assuming the roof stays) it should look to Sweden. Here, malls really are ‘mixed leisure’  – they even welcome Mall Rats, with skateparks and graffiti walls. At Gallerian, the city’s newest mall, there’s a huge spa – Allexon’s (http://www.axelsonsspa.se/) where stressed Swedes can strip, sauna and stretch out while a fierce Nordic athlete pummels their muscles. When Flannels goes, we say add a day spa – and keep it open at night, too. The Met Quarter is, belatedly, trying, with a fussball contest taking place over the World Cup – but is this taking place in extra time?

5) More Food, Please

Yes, we were gutted when that renowned culinary aesthete, Natasha Hamilton, closed her not-in-any-way-egotistical Hamilton’s coffee shop. But all the best malls have food. And, save for a chocolate twist at Costa Coffee, the Met Quarter’s hardly a gastronomic hotspot. Yeah, we know, to fit into the stuff at Armani Exchange you’re gonna have to cut out carbs for a year. But for the rest of us, what’s wrong with a little light refreshement? What about a wine bar? A deli? A sushi bar – anything that adds to the sociability of the place. Heck, we’d even be happy with another chain restaurant. We hear Raymond Blanc is still looking for a home in the city: I bet he could take on Cafe Rouge and come up smelling of tart tatin.

To succeed, the Met Quarter needs to work hard to become a destination in its own right – and to offer something more. Whether it becomes a mixed leisure venue, or appeals more to thrifty shoppers, something better change.

Loyal tenants will only renew their leases for so long. The key to survival is a stark choice. Change or die.

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  • http://www.formidablephotography.com Mark McGowan

    Thoughtful article – nice to see an article about the city that actually offers some alternatives rather than just criticising.

    it was always going to be interesting to see how the Met Quarter coped as soon as Liverpool One opened – I think unless they start using their imagination in a similar way to your ideas then it’s days are numbered. It’s shop selection policy is so similar to the way the city is being developed, this idea that everyone in the city is some sort of high flyer with a massive amount of disposable income to get rid of every week – it’d be lovely for the local shop owners if this was true but it patently isn’t.

    I hope the Met Quarter finds a way to success – it’d be a terrible shame to see such a beatiful building fall into disuse once more.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    Yeah, we’re with you – it’s great to see investment in the city (especially when that site was off limits for so long) but it’s all too blinkered. Man cannot live on Armani alone! Seems every time I go in there, there’s another blank shop front. Let’s hope they’ve got a cunning plan…

  • Daniel

    The Neal’s Yard comparison is an interesting one. Surely the MetQuarter can still be ‘picky’ about its tenants BUT not have to pander to some imaginary High Fligher demographic? They could still keep the likes of Gieves and Hawkes/Flannels/Armani but add in interesting boutiques, cool food stores, whatever, without having to let pound shops in. It has the potential to be a really bustling great place, and at the moment it’s just not.

  • Robin

    That bit between Liverpool One and the Met Quarter is absolutely shocking. In a horror film it would be the stretch that our intrepid group has to cross to get to safety, but you just know not all of them are going to make it…

  • http://www.r2architecture.com Richard

    Gut it an give it to Selfridges | Harvey Nicks then you have Lewis’ and Selfridges as anchor tenants at each end of the trawl. Ok it’s facist and includes no independents but it would work and drag the Liverpool One sphere of influence a bit wider

  • Daniel

    I’m sure Selfridges would do a great job with it, actually. But it still caters to that higher end of the market – and the Metquarter’s proved that, in that area at least, the really ‘high end’ stuff just doesn’t seem to work (or at least it doesn’t in its current form). It would be a great brand to have in the city though.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    i’m always amazed at how harvey nicks survives in MCR – it always looks empty to me. I think it’s the terrifying window displays of dismembered mannequins. Selfridges have put a halt on any new developments too. Liverpool ONE was going to have a third anchor store – some big European department store. But it never happened. I’d vote for Macy’s!

  • http://www.digitalrelish.net Will

    Want to get me into Met Quarter? Kill two birds with one stone and relocate L1’s WH Smiths into a couple of combined units at Met Quarter from the cramped oven it currently shares with the Post Office.

    I used to pay a visit into Smiths almost every time I popped into town. Okay, some of those times I was just reading/browsing, but I also bought a lot from there. Now that Smiths has its new home in L1, I do my utmost to avoid it.

    I don’t know if its bad Feng Shui, but the new store just doesn’t work for me at all. The layout is confusing, there’s no natural flow around the shop, and the heat in there makes reading uncomfortable. Perhaps, cranking up the heat and humidity was a deliberate ploy to accelerate the process of browsing-to-purchasing, but it just doesn’t do it for me.

    I like to browse reading material. I like to browse it in a comfortable environment. I’m not asking for a chair, but sheesh!

    Anyway, back on topic… Put the old-style Smiths into Met Quarter and I’d probably pop in during my visits to the city centre.

  • Colin Dyas (Made in Liverpool)

    I was fortunate to have some contact with the MQ scheme at the conception stage. The project took guts. It was market inspired and carefully researched. It was pitched at the large amount of high end fashion money spent in Manchester originating from Liverpool postcodes. It was first to market and beat Liverpool One by almost a year and it overcame some complex historical site issues.
    It was well designed, for a mall, with attention to detail and high quality materials,.It was delivered by a highly creative team. There was a lot of thought given to fittings, furnishings, lighting, sound systems, textiles, art and more. Even during the construction phase, art was embedded in the build process with JMU and other students decorating the construction hoardings. Inside were imaginative tapestries and window designs by Deborah Steggels. Then John Milligan sold it to a bank. And that’s the answer to the problem. They run it as an investment and not a customer journey experience. Pity, as I like it and it could work so well.

  • Susan Devaney

    Interesting article. I’ve heard Metquarter has no intention of being Liverpool One’s poor relation and that there’s loads of new brands coming soon. Be interesting to see if the rumours are true and what difference they make..

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    couldn’t agree more. WH Smiths is a disgrace. Used to be great. What a shame. Great idea, too.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    I remember the art on the hoardings. Some of them were excellent. I asked the builders if I could have one when they were done. They said no.

  • http://www.nookandwillow.com ninjah

    I think the Met was struggling even before Liverpool 1 opened.
    I say lower the rents, scrap the business rates and get some truly unique independents in there. Give the city and its visitors something a bit different!

  • Rob

    Whitehall is in London. The Met Quarter is in Whitechapel.

  • matt

    I too was involved heavily with MQ when it opened it doors, at the time I co-owned the agency that created all the campaigns, the artwork and the branding (post london agency who devised the MQ brand concept). It was quite unique, visionary and had a strong mission statement. When Milligan pulled out it was a sad day, we realized the vision and the creativity would be lost on a bank, who at the end of the day are interested in one thing.. the bottom line. Management didn’t have the confidence to experiment anymore, catering to the demands of the board than to the market.
    It took allot of cash to generate the footfall, and the tennant mix at the time was right, however, with the opening of L1 the focus was always going to shift. I don’t see an easy answer to the problem, re-addressing the mix and lowering the brand positioning would eventually lead to to a slightly more glamorous clayton square. The major issue with MQ is its location – parking is a nightmare so its not a first point destination, unlike L1 which has dedicated parking. If it where down to me, I would re-position MQ as a true destination, not just a mall, it needs a new strategy, refocus on what the market wants, not what is presumed the market needs – It has the space to accommodate well managed and targeted events, and address the issue of attracting a HNW anchor tenant – free 3 year rental etc etc. A new vision is needed, and an experienced retail / destination management team essential.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    high net worth anchor tenants, sure, but also, the holistic lifestyle element is key – especially if it’s to compete with the nine o’clock opening hours of the Met. I think a bar, or something along those lines, is its true saviour. Drink kinda unites us all.

  • Daniel

    It’d be a great place to hold events, actually.

    It needs to find a balance between high-end and ‘lower end’ (accessible and funky but not cheap). The high-end atmosphere is stifling and unfriendly. Food or a bar is definitely the way to go.

  • Rachel

    Thanks for a really interesting article and some positive suggestions about what can be done to enhance the Met Quarter’s prospects. Definitely agree about the need for more food and drink options, and I’d love to see more independent shops and slightly quirkier brands like Campers shoes. I don’t have an Armani budget but I would spend money on a good meal if there were some restauarants worth visiting.

  • Jez

    Great article – as someone said, it is good to see alternatives offered rather than just criticism.

    Rather than rehash what the comentators above have said, I will add my own issue and, hopefully, offer a solution.

    I earn more than the average so can spend well if I wish but I constantly feel when I go into the Met Quarter that staff are aghast that someone who isn’t dripping in the latest fashion from head to toe dares to shop there. There is a pretentious feel about it and there is far too much looking-down-the-nose goong on from staff. It makes me want to not spend my money there.

    Yes I know that type of thing goes on elsewhere and for some is part of the experience, but this is not London where there is a steady stream of people capable of buying everything in sight. This is a city where, for many, the “MQ purchase” is relatively infrequent.

    Compare it to Liverpool 1 where I rarely feel this is the case. And look at who is shopping in Liverpool 1 – it is people from all walks of life and clearly some people who have the style and money to shop in MQ.

    So I would introduce some serious customer service training to improve staff attiudes. The customer service is appalling in just about every store. Don’t “improve” it to the point where they are hassling you but just so at least they stop treating you like you are getting in their way. This will cost little and is something the store owners themselves should be concerned about.

    And yes, WH Smiths in Liverpool 1 is an absolute disgrace. I last went in there around a year ago and have not touched a WH Smiths store since.

  • bob

    there is simply not enough demand for so many shops/precincts in every major city. this is just natural selection. good ones stay. bad ones go.

  • Isobel

    Interesting and thoughtful article and refreshing to read intelligent thoughtful comments from people who quite obviously care about Liverpool. I’m an exile now but visited briefly in July for the first time for 5 years. The changes were good and not so good to an “outsider” but these comments about MQ sum up everything my friend and I thought. We would be considered “comfortably off” and were more than willing to add some retail therapy to our few days of culture and history but…………. really disappointing for all the above reasons. Personally, found L1 disappointing but maybe it needs more than one trip to appreciate it. Generally, the impression was of disjointed retail planning. Did find Steve Strode though! And bought a couple of his Liverpool scenes – the powers that be up there would do well to listen to the people and visitors. Do they read this?
    Good luck. Hope to return soon.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    Hi Isobel – thanks for your comments. I think the disjointed feel is just the outward signs of a city centre half publicly owned, and half private: it’s not an easy thing to join, and the cracks certainly show. As to whether anyone with any influence reads this, who knows… put it this way, we’ve yet to be taken out for drinks, or offered the keys to the city. I think that’s some time off…

  • Scouser In Exile

    Actually, I disagree with all of you. I think The Met Quarter needs to go MORE upmarket. Its so-called ‘rival’, Liverpool One, has lots of nice shiny high street and mid-range brands and good parking. Nice cheap eateries, etc.

    The Met Quarter needs to differentiate itself from L1. It needs to aim itself purely at the many wealthy inhabitants of the North West area. It needs actual luxury fashion boutiques like Gucci, Chanel, Dior etc. It needs a top-end watch shop such as Rolex or Watches Of Switzerland and lifestyle brands like Bang & Olufsen etc. It needs a quality ‘destination’ restaurant. Cafe Rouge? I don’t know any wealthy people who eat there. Your rich types don’t like to mix with the rest of us, snobby as it might seem. They like exclusivity. If you doubt my word I’ve worked in Luxury retail in London for ten years. I wish the Met Quarter all the best whichever direction it takes.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    Not sure there’s the same amount of money in Liverpool than there is in Kensington. Ultra high end spenders would probably gravitate towards Manchester, only because most of them live in Cheshire. As they say, half of our catchment area is in the Irish Sea!

  • http://www.theflaneur.co.uk The Flâneur

    I only go in there for Café Rouge! There is nothing in there to interest me. I was looking forward to a local branch of Gieves and Hawkes but visits I have paid there have put me off – the shop sells mainly rather vulgar novelties of the sort only footballers would wear.

    One evening I accompanied my partner on an evening shopping expedition to the Met Quarter to find a queue at the door. There was some silly publicity event taking place and shoppers were being made to surrender their e-mail addresses before they were allowed into the place! That changed our minds for us and that of other, more vocal intending shoppers also stuck in the queue in the cold wind outside.

    Apart from impromptu visits to Café Rouge (through the Victoria Street entrance) for refuelling in evening shopping trips I have not been back. It is big without being impressive, in fact rather oppressive; it is awkward to navigate and unfriendly, the sort of people who congregate here attracted by the niche bling labels are scallies.

    To save it? Get some shops in selling wares that people actually want to buy and make the inside less like an airport entrance. Put in a PROPER main post office as befits such a large city and as someone above suggested , a branch of Selfridges. At the moment there’s nothing in there to lure me through those creepy glass doors.

  • Pattie

    Interesting the suggestion of relocating W H Smith’s into smaller units. It would make sense also to give the post office it’s own space there as well, after all, the gorgeous building was origionally one of Liverpool’s biggest post office’s. Could rename the met quater The Post Office, then it could become bohemian and quirky, where the big names would also like to sit along side.

  • Bill Major

    WH Smiths today is a sad sweaty environment. A big mistake. The MetQuarter was struggling perhaps because it appealed not to high flyers but to wannabe highflyers -footballers wives etc -may be it mirrors Liverpool FC’s problems?
    Hardly anyone has mentioned the obvious – the Credit Crunch – not the best time to open an expensive mall perhaps?
    The prospects are not too rosy either

  • Steve

    Why do people feel embarassed about wanting up market,quality retail choices – it’s all part of retail’s rich mix.
    I would try to attract Westwood and Cricket into The Met -along with other labels – (Uniglo,Muji and Magma) and good food and wine destinations- you could have an oasis of style – somewhere to escape to.
    Like the idea of changing the name to The Post Office too.

  • http://www.theflaneur.co.uk The Flâneur

    When all is said and done “Met Quarter” is a terrible name. Nonetheless I imagine some consultancy drone was paid a fortune to come up with it.

  • karen

    Interesting comments so far. The place needs some interesting food and wine places to draw more interest. What about Delifonseca ? The Raymond Blanc suggestion was good too.

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  • joanne

    Its needs some cheaper shops in the met to bring more people in who will then hopefully buy from some of the more expensive shops maybe Evans or the likes as no other shop in the met caters for the bigger size lady/gents

  • JaiB

    Used to love popping into the old WHSmiths, and it didn’t matter what time of day you went in, it was always bustling… The new unit in L1 is dark, oppressive and somewhat un-welcoming, and as mentioned the heat is unbearable.I think WHSmiths, a rainforest style cafe, and then the introduction of more independent retailers such as unique jewellery & home-wares should be welcomed in, especially with the massive growth in sites such as etsy etc. Also now PJ’s Milkshakes has closed a permanent fixture as a snack cafe should open at MetQ to draw in student / younger crowd who then build a loyalty to the independents during their formative years before exploring the higher range outlets once the time for interviews and carers knocks on their doors…It is the unfortunate thinking in Liverpool that everyone has an expendable income, Unfortunately that’s not the case any longer as housing costs have short through the ceiling since London based developers have jacked city centre rents up, and in doing so have forced out any prospective big businesses coming into the area as equally commercial property prices are astronomical in comparison to the likes of Leeds, Chester and even Manchester. Creating a greater black hole as unfortunately there simply isn’t enough “top dollar jobs” to support the amount of consumerism retailers operating in L1 and MetQ had hoped for. I really hope the situation changes soon, and that more bug business enter the city and provide better jobs to support the citys economy as a whole. But currently I cant see it happening.

  • geeski

    Strange..whether its restaurants or big stores..Seven Streets is always talking our city down….the Traff Centre doesnt have a LIverpool One nearly opposite..and free parking definitely helps…And as a blogger states..Metquarter..stupid title.

  • geeski

    Plus…people walk past the entrance and dont even notice a mall is there

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  • http://www.sevenstreets.com/ Robin Brown

    @geeski Why are you always talking our city down?

  • http://vindalooqueen.blogspot.com/ Vindaloo Queen

    I live in Dubai and there are Metquarter-style malls here that have had a similar fate- too many posh shops, stuck up staff and very bland looking interiors, meaning fewer visitors. The best solution would be to throw in a few ‘normal’ and independent shops, failing that, lower the rent and put the old post office back as the city centre is crying out for one.

  • http://vindalooqueen.blogspot.com/ Vindaloo Queen

    couldn’t agree more. I left Lpool in 2002 and make occasional visits back but I’m saddened to see the plasticky look of our city now. I miss Lewis’s, Church St as it was and Proper Quiggins. i miss the restaurants and caffs that have disappeared thanks to the chains in L1 too… Golden Phoenix, El Macho, Buca di Bacco to name a few…

  • Mark Mc

    I was in the Met Quarter today and I swear I was the only person in there. Although I must say I did enjoy the Fratellis deli on the top floor. Seems such a shame, but there just isn’t the money to splash around in this town. Not even the card shops had anyone in them, and it’s Valentines! I can see this place as a vibrant ethnic market, or crafts centre, with lots of indie stalls and pop up shops, there’s a smiliar sized venue doing a roaring trade in Leeds, not a chain store among them.