Independent Urmston: a Recent History Lesson

Cowering in the long shadow cast by the mighty Intu Trafford Centre, Urmston is a small town besieged by big business and internationally franchised companies.  The past fifteen years have been grim for many independent businesses in Urmston: increasingly hemmed in by supermarkets and giant shopping malls and squeezed by the rapid expansion of the online retail sector and the country’s economic freefall, many have gone to the wall or simply given up.

Lots of independent traders have been forced to close.

Lots of independent traders have been forced to close.

In the last year alone we’ve lost an old fashioned sweet shop, the beautiful gift emporium that was Lily’s Boutique and more than one restaurant or bar.

More than ten years ago, consultation began to decide what was to be done about Urmston‘s ageing concrete precinct which was struggling to cope with the consumer rush towards swish new developments such as the Intu Trafford Centre and the giant Asda in Trafford Park.  At that time the precinct had a small Somerfield supermarket and lots of independent traders such as the stationers Urmstat, jewellers and clothing boutiques, mixed with a couple of chains such as the More Store, Farm Foods and, round the corner, Poundstretcher and What Everyone Wants.

Asked to choose from a range of options, the public voted for Ask Developments to forge ahead with their Eden Square development in the heart of Urmston.  A mix of big high street names (remember the mock up photos of the development, featuring ‘Top Stop’?) and independent trading outlets was expected but just as work began, in April 2008, the world economic crisis rained fiscal devastation on Ask’s plans and the project was delayed and extended time and again.

With Urmston’s town centre car parks out of use to make way for the demolition and redevelopment of the precinct, independent traders on the market and elsewhere (Crofts Bank Road, Flixton Road,Station Road and others) struggled to stay open.  The market has never really recovered from this period of near- inactivity and today many of its stalls stand empty.  Tough times.

Finally, in 2009, the first phase of the development saw the opening of a larger-than-expected Sainsbury’s supermarket, a new public library, shopper’s car park and Boots.  Sainsbury’s took the controversial decision to open a cafe and to sell clothing, striking somewhat of a blow against small independents such as Lily’s coffee lounge and the Clothing Station (now closed).

Flixton Road was particularly affected by the extended redevelopment of Urmston town centre: having struggled through the long years of massively reduced car parking, many traders were dismayed when the new development and car parking arrangements drove people towards Eden Square and away from their businesses.  To take just one example, since King Spot moved out, Firedragon Crafts, Okid Oki and Halle May’s boutique have all rented then vacated the unit at 86 Flixton Road (Halle May’s still exists as an online shop).

The building work is complete in Eden Square but some units remain empty and anecdotal evidence suggests that rents are far higher than would normally be achievable for an independent trader or a start-up business (there are exceptions: Hair Defnition Studios and Lily’s at Eden Square).  The Eden Square development itself is pleasant enough, but lacks the character one would find in a high street that has grown organically over time, instead of being ‘developmentally managed’.  Local people often comment that Eden Square’s sparse group of identical trees lacks the green lushness the name conjures up …

Oliver's Hot and Cold Food recently opened on Grosvenor Rd.

Oliver’s Hot and Cold Food recently opened on Grosvenor Rd.Lil

But like dandelions in an urban space, new businesses spring up all the time in Urmston (Fouette, the dancewear shop, the Glass Slipper shoe boutique and Lily’s at Eden Square come to mind, but there are many more independent businesses freshly unwrapped in Urmston – please contact us or comment below if there are any you would like to see on this website).  This website aims to support those businesses and to celebrate what sets them apart from bigger corporate affairs.  It’s free and it always will be.  Please spread the word and let others know about Urmston Independents.

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