City planning chiefs have drafted in BBC2’s Mary, Queen of Shops, in a bid to create a distinctive Birmingham shopping experience by attracting more independent retailers to the city centre.
Following a brainstorming session with retail and brand communication guru Mary Portas and small city-centre shop owners, Birmingham City Council is looking at ways it can better foster independent shops.
Grants of £10,000 for small retailers setting up in the city centre and a campaign promoting Birmingham’s Victorian shopping arcades were among the ideas floated at the meeting.
Birmingham City Council director of planning and regeneration Clive Dutton said the council stood by its aim of increasing the number of independent shops in the city centre from the current 100 to around 200 or 300 in the next few years.
Creating a unique retail centre by supporting independent shops is part of the council’s aim to get Birmingham into the list of the top 20 most livable cities in the world within two decades, Mr Dutton said.
“We have to think about the sort of place you want to emulate, the places all of us visit in our spare time,” said Mr Dutton.
“You tend to go to places that are different and what makes them different is the different kinds of leisure and shopping experience.
“For example, if the city centre were a meal, the independent retailers would be the spice in that. If you have just got the multiples, a great part of the high street is much of a muchness.”
As part of achieving this, the council has developed an ongoing collaboration with Mary Portas, the woman credited with turning Harvey Nichols into a fashion powerhouse, to find ways it can support independent retailers.
Ms Portas said there was massive potential for Birmingham to expand its independent shop sector.
“It’s really important for Birmingham to have a mix of shops. Birmingham is so culturally mixed and we need an independent sector that is also mixed.
“I would love to see the idea of a world market set up in the city which can really bring together all the cultures that are here in terms of fashion, design and food.”
“But we need to look at how we support the sector and have a vision for them collectively.”
She said Birmingham needed to broadcast a clearer image of its independent shopping offer in order to tempt people from outside the city to plan a shopping trip to Birmingham.
“We need people from London or Guildford, for example, to plan a trip to Birmingham in the same way they would go to Bath.”
“Retailing is about image, it’s about a vision for Birmingham,” she said.
Birmingham City Council is considering several practical ways independent shops can be encouraged to set up in Birmingham city centre.
One idea it is looking at is a support package.
This would consist of grants and matched funding from other agencies, of around £10,000 for new shops which would cover assistance with rents, rates, relocation costs, fascia improvements and the installation of heating and lighting.
A drive to make shoppers more aware of the city’s Victorian retail arcades such as the Piccadilly Arcade, just off New Street, the Great Western arcade opposite Snow Hill station and the Burlington Arcade next to the Burlington Hotel also features among the council’s plans.
“After discussions with Mary and the retailers, we thought we should be collaborating more with the property owners of the arcades such as the Piccadilly, Great Western and Burlington arcades,” said Mr Dutton. “We will facilitate a meeting to bring together property owners and retailers and Retail Birmingham and see if we can polish those diamonds.”
The council, whose collabaration with Mary Portas dates back to last year, invited the retail adviser to the city in November to announce the winner of the best independent trader award in Birmingham city centre.
The search was carried out by Retail Birmingham to show off the independent retail talent in the city centre Business Improvement District.
The winner was announced as designer men’s clothing boutique Disorder, an ethical, “anti-brand” shop that produces all of its own clothes and describes itself as “against global blanding”.