CHARLES GRAHAM - Getting the retail balance correct

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I WATCHED a fascinating local history film the other day dating back a quarter of a century which charts the final days of the much-loved former Wigan Market Hall.

It begins six months before the demise of the historic building (which dated from 1877) and it is teeming with shoppers.

Rather dog-eared with unpleasant concrete add-ons it may have been. But it was popular, and the majority view expressed about its forthcoming replacement among stallholders and patrons in 1987 to my colleague Geoff Shryhane was a negative one. That included the new surroundings and increased rents.

Several interviewees would rather the council of the time do up the existing place (shades of the current Preston bus station debate). One curmudgeonly OAP predicts that the substitute development is going to be a “white elephant.”

Those with longer memories will know the hall eventually succumbed to the wrecking ball in early 1988 - distressing viewing it is too - and that it was replaced of course by the Galleries and the new indoor market.

Both confounded the grim predictions for a good while but, as we know, they have struggled more of late.

Not only because of the recession but also because the new Grand Arcade lured several major tenants across town and few businesses came in behind them to fill the gaps.

But the timing of the recession’s arrival couldn’t have been worse for the plan to replenish the “old town” units. How different things might have been...

But we shouldn’t always be doom-mongering about ventures aimed at boosting Wigan’s appearance and economy. The latest proposed change to the skyline concerns a development on the site of what was to have been Grand Arcade phase II.

The multi-storey bloc, artist’s impressions of which were released this month, could feature a hotel, restaurant and more shops.

When so many retail units are standing empty in the Galleries and Marketgate centre one might wonder at the wisdom of creating yet more shops, especially ones that have the potential to pull the retail centre of gravity even further away from the market end of town.

But if marketed right and offering different unit sizes from what is currently available, there is a chance of success without its being at the expense of existing businesses when economic climes are more clement.

Especially so if footfall increases markedly at the market end of town thanks to the imminent opening of the Youth Zone and neighbouring university technical college. It is a retail balancing act that needs careful attention though.