Back in October 2021, Nottingham-born Arran Bailey, managing director of ALB, kick-started a retail resurgence by buying up shops that are home to businesses such as designer fashion store 18Montrose, Fred Perry, and Coco Tang café and cocktail bar.
For a few years walking along the street was quite a sad affair, unit after unit empty – as many businesses shut up shop and moved away from this beautiful part of the city, the woes of Broad Marsh and the closures of Jamie’s Italian and Carluccio’s on nearby Middle Pavement only added to the feeling that it might never be the same again.
Until Arran Bailey and Box Property decided to have a go at transforming the model and giving something new a chance.
Arran, ALB Group acquired 11 properties in Bridlesmith Gate and a further three units in nearby Lister Gate.
Arran was determined to put an end to the traditional high rents and long leases that landlords have previously demanded in the city, by making the units more affordable, with shorter lease periods.
ALB teamed up with Nottingham-based Box Property Consultants to bring in a new, exciting generation of independent retailers and coffee shops to help make this area of Nottingham great again, akin to London’s Carnaby Street in London.
A walk along Bridlesmith Gate in May 2022 shows that the idea is coming to fruition, only one unit remains empty to date, and it’s likely that that won’t be for too long!
The Wire asked Nottingham independent retail analyst Nelson Blackley for his views on the transformation of one of the city’s most visited streets:
“Empty retail units started to appear in many shopping streets in towns and cities across the UK following the financial crash back in 2008, but retail vacancy rates really started to accelerate over the past five or six years as more consumers chose to shop online, which in particular, impacted fashion and other non-food retailers that had lots of physical stores.
“Significant increases in the ‘occupancy costs’ including rents, business rates and service charges over this period forced many to reduce the size of their retail estates, such as House of Fraser and John Lewis or in the case of some national retail brands, such as Topshop, Topman, Debenhams, to close all their stores.
“Bridlesmith Gate, which has existed since the Middle Ages, houses some of the oldest retail premises in Nottingham and was once the city’s most prominent shopping street.
“It was pedestrianised in the 1970s and served as a key route between the newly opened Victoria and Broad Marsh shopping centres.
“However, the Broad Marsh Centre lost its appeal as a retail destination long ago. Since then, and following its eventual closure almost two years ago, footfall along adjacent streets south of Market Square such as Bridlesmith Gate, and Low Pavement and Lister Gate has collapsed.
“For many Nottingham shoppers, the demise of Bridlesmith Gate began in 2018 when long established gift shop The Tokenhouse moved to a new location in St Peter’s Gate after 45 years because of the high rents.
“However, a much larger visual gap had already been created at the end of 2016 when American Apparel closed its store when the brand went into administration.
“Over the past three years a succession of retailers has come and gone – including MAC Cosmetics, Whistles, Dune, Argento, Jones, and Diesel, Pretty Green, Hobbs and Office and whilst there were vacancies even before the pandemic, closures have just accelerated as thousands of commuters worked from home and shopped online.
“So, the recent news that a local property development company is succeeding in its plans to buy many of the empty units in Bridlesmith Gate, and find new retail tenants, is really positive and will hopefully mark the beginning of an exciting new era for this historic shopping area of Nottingham.
“The redevelopment of the huge Broad Marsh site will clearly take years to complete but meanwhile the hope is that Bridlesmith Gate can re-establish its own identity with a unique mix of independent boutique retail outlets, art galleries, coffee shops, bars, and restaurants.
“In particular, the possibility of accommodation above some of these retail units would of course bring back the traditional way these buildings in Bridlesmith Gate were used for so much of their historic past and help build a mix of both business and community to help the area survive and prosper.”
Box Property co-owner Ben Tebbutt said:
“The street is becoming more independent-led and is going to have more vibrant, younger Nottingham-led brands leading the way forward.
“We are acting not only as letting agents but asset managers in delivering results built upon the clear strategy we set out when first appointed to the project which includes both innovative leasing methods and potential environment/street scene improvements we are looking at delivering in due course.”
“The project has been about flexible assets management, and we’re not finished yet. We’re aiming to improve the street scene and help retailers buy into the strategy with affordable and flexible options.”
Arran, who has previously revealed plans to provide student accommodation above the units, said:
“I am over the moon with how we have managed to breathe life into this end of Bridlesmith Gate, with a real diversity of tenants, and I hope to see the footfall increase.
“Box Property has done a fantastic job securing all these tenants.”
The success of the firm continues this week, with long-established ladieswear boutique Stick and Ribbon recently collecting the keys for their new 1,200 sq ft space – securing ALB’s final space on one side of Bridlesmith Gate.
Sally Longden, owner of Stick and Ribbon, said: “What Arran is doing seems to be a really good opportunity for us to grow our business.”
Other companies that have been quick to join Stick and Ribbon in snapping up the chance of securing prime retail space on Bridlesmith Gate include Pygott & Crone, an independent estate agent which is moving from Baker Gate and has branches in London and all over the Midlands, including in Lincoln, Grantham, and Spalding.
BARiSTA, a craft coffee shop and deli shop, is also snapping up space.
Keishi Jewellery and Coffee Lab are also among the plethora of operators waiting in the wings to secure the last remaining space formerly occupied by Office shoes, which benefits from a large secret garden/yard area to the rear making it suitable for a bar or restaurant use.
ALB have received offers on their final unit, but the firm has been working closely with Nottingham-based Leonard Design and have submitted a planning application.
Fashion stores 18 Montrose and Sneakrverse have also signed deals to extend their leases.
Tim Downing of Pygott and Crone, which has also taken a unit, said: “We are pleased to be located on Bridlesmith Gate, as it has a rich history being on the north-south retail axis of Nottingham.
“It’s home to some of the country’s most stylish and vibrant retailers. The distinctive red Pygott & Crone brand will be a positive addition to the thoroughfare and we hope that it will become as familiar to the residents of Nottingham as it is to the people of Lincolnshire”
Frankie Labbate, Director of Box Property Consultants, said: “It feels really rewarding to have been able to attract such a strong tenant mix, which we have created organically.
“We look forward to seeing the area go from strength to strength.”