Green shoots showing in Kings Heath High Street
Troubled Kings Heath High Street has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in the face of the recession, reports Paul Suart.
A Birmingham high street, which came to symbolise the destruction wrought by the recession to huge swathes of Britain’s retail industry, may just be seeing the first signs of recovery.
The credit crunch gloom, which only a few months ago hung ominously over Kings Heath, appears to be making way for some welcome rays of hope as new businesses start to seep back to the area.
In January Kings Heath High Street was a grim place, with the area’s business association suggesting as many as 100 of its members faced a critical three-month period if they were to survive. Empty shops dotted the shopping area, with the closure of Woolworths one of the biggest blows. Regional and national media saw the area as symptomatic of a wider economic malaise consigning numerous household retail giants to oblivion.
But the area, historically one of Birmingham’s busiest commercial districts, now appears to be bouncing back and has even being heralded as the ‘new Moseley’ in certain quarters, particularly with Sage Wholefoods Co-operative, once a B13 mainstay, set to open there.
The pessimism which greeted the closure of Woolworths is long gone given the impact its substitute, Poundland, has made, while many of the vacant retail units at the Instore markets in High Street have now been filled.
Chris O’Neil owns Relax in Style furniture store in York Road and is also marketing director of the Kings Heath Town Centre Partnership.
“You read about green shoots of recovery in the press – there are certainly shoots in Kings Heath,” he said. “There’s a lot more positivity. We are up on last year’s figures and doing pretty well.”
Stan Hems, who runs Johnsons Butchers in the High Street and is chairman of KHBA, has echoed that sentiment of recovery.
He said: “It’s really upbeat. We’ve a new cafe open, a furniture shop opening and a new Italian restaurant.
“The doom and gloom of the winter has gone and there’s a lot happening in Kings Heath.”
There is talk of plans to transform the redundant Gala bingo hall in High Street into a plush music venue, while The Station, one of Kings Heath’s landmark pubs, has reopened under new management after a major refurbishment boasting a larger purpose-built space for live entertainment.
New manager Paul Burrows, who has drafted in the team which used to run the Barfly in Digbeth, said of the relaunch: “We were busy all weekend. A lot of the locals came back and a lot of local bands played that used to play.
“The whole High Street is really positive and a lot of shops are reopening. With us and Hare and Hounds here we’re attracting people to the area.”
Not only is the commercial side of Kings Heath looking healthier but the area is now a safer place to shop and visit, according to Jonathan Jaffa, secretary of the KHTCP.
“We’ve donated money to the police for extra CCTV,” he said. “It’s paid for computer software which allows them to get information from the cameras which used to take up to six weeks.”
Mr Jaffa, who runs hardware store York Supplies in York Road, says the introduction of Poundland has been a real shot in the arm for the High Street and also the side streets brimming with independent shops and boutiques.
“Poundland has really perked up the area mainly because of the added footfall it has brought in.
“During a period described as the worst recession in economic history, Kings Heath lost only two per cent of its businesses, which is a remarkable success story. The other thing I’ve noticed is that the place is cleaner.”
It seems business leaders in Kings Heath have no plans to rest on their laurels given that a “shop local” campaign, co-ordinated by both the business association and the town centre partnership, is now looming large.
As part of the campaign, to be launched at The Big Party in Kings Heath on Saturday, leaflets urging the public to spend money in Kings Heath will be distributed to 10,000 homes in the area and shopping bags carrying the same message will be given away in shops.