If ever a stretch of street embodied what we were talking about in our disappearing heritage piece, it’s the heart of Dale Street. Which, essentially, is the dead heart of the city. Ironic – when that’s where the Council sits.
Imagine if Mello Mello or the Kaz were on Dale Street, faced with eviction, closure due to student flats, and the dithering of a disinterested Council. We’d be (rightly) out on the streets. I’d be writing lurid posts, I can bet you that much.
But on Dale Street, that exact story’s been played out, in the past month. Just minus the cocktails. Long standing independent traders forced to shut, evicted, shuffled on and bypassed. And no-one really took any notice. Because we’re busy enjoying our own version of the city.
But the fact remains – the health of Liverpool independence, from the Dale Street end of the city, is quite a different proposition.
So, the question that troubles me is this: should it matter that the street’s not the sort of place we, or our friends, spend our free time in?
I don’t think it should. Imagine if the lovely Mowgli was here – and the wrecking ball loomed over it? They, us and you would be livid.
SevenStreets loves the city’s new ventures. Of course we do. They’re our friends. But our worry is that the selection process we use when we stand up to fight for stuff is way too subjective. And, armed with our social media bullets, we – us and you – are the ones whose voices are heard loudest.
Past and present history tells us the city’s leaders can’t be trusted to be good custodians of our heritage. They turned their back on London Road, and Browns Jewellers closed after 170 years. We still buy jewels. It’s just that we’ve elected to wipe London Road off the map.
In the clamour to soak up the new, maybe we’re neglecting the diminishing number of heritage businesses that really anchor our city’s culture?
There’s been an ironmongers on Dale Street for 116 years. You’ll have passed Thomas and Nelson. Seen its shiny array of keys. Perhaps even have inhaled that distinctive key-cutter smell. The store was unceremoniously evicted from its original location (opposite the Magistrates’ Court) by the Duke of Westminster when it had plans to turn the basement into a car park. It failed – too much concrete (turns out the basement is a warren of world war bunkers).
The business – just about – clings on. But partners Ian, Aidan and Neil aren’t optimistic.
A forest of keys shimmer as a chugging snake of busses crawls past.
“If we haven’t got what a customer wants, we’ll get it,” manager Jo Thomas tells us, “People appreciate that we go the extra mile. Well, there’s no-one else quite like us left.”
How’s business, I ask: “Take a look…” Aidan Thomas says. Dale Street is deserted.
There’s no-one like PRS left at all. Without so much as an irate letter in the Echo, the wonderful treasure trove of electronics shut up shop, after 40 years. Not long after, Taits Health Store, trading for about the same length of time, was forced to close too. Why? Two words. Student Flats. We kicked off about the rehearsal rooms upstairs, but we were curiously silent about the businesses below. That they’ve gone is perhaps, according to Nick Small, a good thing: “If it is developed along the lines of leisure use I think that would add something to the night-time economy” he says. What about the daytime economy? Because, in Dale Street, there’s precious little evidence of that.
The city can’t live on restaurants and bars alone. And that’s what’s happening – Liverpool ONE, Met Quarter, Bold Street – they’re all becoming food hubs. What sort of a city do we want? A real functioning city with families living their with children, with all the shops and services we need. Or a play pit for us, for eating and drinking in?
Now, of course, some might say ‘that’s life. Market forces. Move on.’ But these are Liverpool families, who’ve served us well, for generations. Built up a business through successive recessions. Do we owe them at least as much support as a new pop-up in the Baltic?
What makes us fight for some stuff, and turn the the other cheek for others? What criteria do we use? Is it, ultimately, all about us? What looks nice? What sells the stuff that we want?
I’m only thinking out loud here.
“Look at this street – it’s Liverpool’s main route into the city, and it’s derelict,” Aidan says, grinding a shiny new Yale.
“There used to be a string of independent shops along here, they’re all gone.”
But we still need locks, right? And keys? Just as much as pizza?
“Yeah, but it’s hard to park here. The council messed up the traffic flow with bays, the roadworks lasted forever. No-one cared about the businesses here.” And with each business closure, the gravitational effect lessens: “We really felt it when PRS closed, we’d help each other out.”
Am I being hopelessly Canute-like in the face of progress? Maybe, I think, over a wonderful Welsh Rarebit in the (empty) Fat Budgie. But, here’s what I also think: if we do nothing, they go. Gostins, Rapid, TJs. All of them. And, at best, Tesco moves in, because we don’t do leisure here.
If we want a city with heritage you can touch, taste, feel and smell, we need to take a look at this other independent Liverpool. And see if can’t reach out a little to it, too.
In Barcelona, heritage shops, pharmacies and bars are given some protection. “If you’ve served us for generations,” the city says, “You’ve earned the right to stay, and we’ll do what we can to support you.” It’s like a start-up in reverse. A keepy-up. The council sets aside money to leverage against the machinations of landlords and new whims. Tries, at least, to find a balance. Old with new. In doing so, it preserves the stuff that, otherwise, would fall through the cracks. Preserves a sense of place: a working city, serving families as well as students. Night time and day time economies.
Walk through Barcelona and tell me that’s not a very smart, very good idea. Walk down Dale Street, then the upper end of Bold Street, and tell me we’ve got the balance right.