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.

downloadPast 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).

7e847fd2-547b-4b41-8d13-303e2cac41e8The 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.

ce6c8a3f-ca51-4ec3-b3bb-a7ee461642b1There’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.”

IMG_6438Am 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.

15 Responses to “The Other Side of the Independents: A Visit to Dale Street”

  1. Josh Owen Morris

    Everything’s about cars, only a limited number can park outside a shop if there is on street parking anyway. Once the parking moves, the shops near where it used to be are screwed. If you could take the train into town and ride a city bike about without it being flipping terrifying cos of all the flyovers/four lane roads you have to get across to turn right, it might be a different story.

  2. Wonderful piece. We just can’t afford to be selfish in Liverpool. It’d be nice to see everyone who cared about Mello Mello (for example) support these kinds of things when the axe looms over them. The key to a great city is to be passionate about it ALL, not just the stuff that appeals to you, particularly nowadays. Great cities take care of everything within it.

  3. Unfortunately, the decline of a lot of these shops is a national trend, not a Liverpool one. The Ship and Mitre right up the shitty end of Dale Street is booming, Dale Street Eatery is doing great, because there’s demand. Taits looked abandoned 10 years ago.

  4. Tom George

    Taits has gone? Noooo…that was my flapjack-stop. Serving the refreshment needs of musicians from the practice room above for decades. We are all to blame ‘cos we buy stuff online…I’m off to Barcelona in Feb funnily enough – they know the value of little old stores with varnished wood everywhere and history in the air…

  5. Agreed, but I think it’s more concerning that people will simply shrug off the loss of these kinds of stores (regardless of if we’ve ever used them or not) when they’re just as intrinsic to the character of a city just as much as a club or bar.

    I think it’s less about individually campaigning for, say, a locksmith’s – and more about just being *aware* of what’s happening with these sort of shops as a whole swathe. This is a whole section of Liverpool history that’s being strangled.

  6. Asking about the daytime economy is spot on. Economically, this city is weak and focussing on the lowest forms of economic growth and the growth that takes the least effort to make happen. It needs an effort of an entirely different magnitude to change this.

  7. Ramsey Campbell

    Well, hold on. Browns Jewellers has gone, alas, but the property is occupied by the excellent bookseller Henry Bohn, and that’s certainly worth celebrating.

  8. MikeHomfray

    Pretty much agree with all that. There are far too many student flats in the city already – filling the place up with overseas students is not genuine regeneration.
    There is also an unrealistic attitude towards parking. Public transport to the city and around the city isn’t good enough, and there are areas of the city without sufficent parking space.

  9. It’s certainly difficult for an electronics retailer, for example, to compete with the huge online market. Bricks and mortar retail outlets are in decline everywhere. That’s one reason for the boom in food and drink venues, they provide an experience you can’t get off the internet.
    I don’t really see what the council can do if businesses aren’t profitable enough to afford their premises. Cuts in rates are unthinkable when the budget has been so heavily slashed by central government. One thing about all the students living in the city centre is that there is now a need for retail outlets for their day-to-day needs, take them away and you’re looking at a ghost town.
    I can fully sympathise, but at the same time there’s also a reason why we don’t have many farriers or cobblers or tinkers trading in town these days either. Businesses have to stand on their own feet.

  10. Taits could afford their premises, but when the new owners took over the premises they were told their lease wouldn’t be renewed as their type of business wasn’t wanted in the building.

  11. Diana Heredia

    Traditional businesses are closing in the Baltic too for the benefit of food and students. The city is threatening to become a one trick pony and when at some point the situation changes mass closures loom…again. It is all too easy to excuse everything with market forces. If the council doesn’t plan for the future of the city and doesn’t act to protect its citizens – what or who is it there for?

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