How Southport is bucking the retail trend

Despite gloomy predictions about the future of bricks and mortar retailing Southport is seeing million of pounds of new investment. Andrew Brown reports

Beales, Southport
Beales department store is set to reopen on Lord Street. Photo by Andrew Brown Media


Who said retail was dead? It’s alive and well and thriving in Southport right now with some exciting new ventures opening in town this summer.

Millions of pounds are being invested in the town centre particularly, with hundreds of new jobs being created.  It shows a renewed confidence in shopping in Southport. It also creates a sense of optimism that news of this investment will ripple out to other business leaders, creating a snowball effect that will boost our town still further.

The headline news locally of course is the reopening of Beales department store on Lord Street this August. This venture on its own will see around £800,000 invested, with the creation of 40 new jobs.

The new Beales company opened its first store in Poole last year with its second, in Peterborough, welcoming its first customers earlier this year. That the firm chose Southport as the place to open its third store in the UK is hugely encouraging.

Beales managing director Tony Brown said: “I honestly believe that customers want to see a local department store opening in Southport again. We had a queue of brands wanting to come to Southport, which is really positive.

“Once we open, we are looking forward to seeing more new businesses coming into Wayfarers Arcade. I think we will become a catalyst for even more growth and investment in Southport, I certainly hope so.”

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It is a real boost, especially after the COVID pandemic struck the UK and led to the first national lockdown in March last year – the same month that both Beales and Debenhams department stores on Lord Street closed their doors.

The former BHS department store had already sat empty for months, after closing its doors in 2016. Things appeared bleak.  The revival since then has been stunning. The BHS building has since been bought, with builders currently working to convert the premises into 30 new aparthotel rooms under the Prestige Stay brand.

Last weekend saw the opening of another new retail unit, The Fragrance Shop, on Chapel Street – the firm’s third UK opening this year.  Next door to that is the new One Below store, which opened earlier this month.

Supermarkets are also getting ready to pounce. Sainsbury’s is finally due to begin building its huge new store at Meols Cop Retail Park, Lidl is looking to open a new supermarket on Marine Drive, Tesco is opening a new shop on Chapel Street soon and Aldi is eager to open its third new store in north Southport as it looks for the right site.

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The Retail Strategy Review 2021, published by Nexus Planning on behalf of Sefton Council in March this year, may need to be ripped up and rewritten already.  It highlighted how comparison goods retail in Southport had fallen from 38.2% of floorspace in May 2015 to 28.8% in October 2020.

It said: “The change is stark and undoubtedly has a bearing on the attractiveness of the town as a shopping venue.” However the report also said that this was “largely due to the closure of BHS, Debenhams and Beales”.

Tony Brown
Tony Brown is behind the reopening of Beales. Photo by Andrew Brown Media
Rachel Fitzgerald
Southport BID chief executive Rachel Fitzgerald. Picture by Gareth Jones


It added: “Such large vacant units have subsequently proven difficult to let, which is both reflective of the lack of demand in the retail sector and the nature of the accommodation, which is somewhat dated and arranged over a number of floors.”

However, two of those large units, Beales and BHS, are currently being refurbished and are due to reopen soon. A further substantial town centre landmark, the former Grand Casino on Lord Street, is due to become a luxury hotel, wedding venue, brewery and family entertainment centre, thanks to further investment by Mikhail Hotel & Leisure Group.

That scheme also highlights the current investment in hospitality locally, with 10 new food outlets and a feature bar opening as part of the £1.4m Southport Market development last week.

Suddenly, far from being a headache, the former Debenhams building on Lord Street now looks to be an unmissable opportunity for investors. There is believed to be keen interest in the site already, with a range of possibilities.

Southport Town Deal has undoubtedly been a huge catalyst for investor confidence in Southport. The £38.5m funding boost from the Government has already supported the new ‘boulevard of light’ along Lord Street and the transformation of the new look Southport Market.

It will also see the creation of a new £75m Marine Lake Events Centre and a spectacular light show in Marine Lake.  Further developments are on their way with a transformation of Southport Pleasureland and the new Southport Cove at Princes Park.

But there are a number of factors at play in this new renaissance in retail in Southport.  Is it sustainable? Will the snowball effect keep growing? Will our resort attract more new shops, and keep the ones we already have?

That will only happen if people locally and regionally continue to ‘shop local’, ‘eat local’ and support local businesses, and give new ventures a try. The tremendous response to the opening of the new Southport Market bodes well in that respect.

Southport Business Improvement District (Southport BID) chief executive, Rachel Fitzgerald, said: “There are many people who have confidence in Southport, both landlords and business owners. The reopening of Beales demonstrates the investment they are prepared to put into our town.

“It is our responsibility, local people, to continuously invest in our town so we all can enjoy the benefits of a thriving Southport. The success and prosperity of our town lies in our hands.”

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