Monday, 15 June 2009

Where is Chester's independent spirit?

Grim reading this weekend for Visit Chester & Cheshire. The story, High Street: High Noon, published in Saturday's Telegraph magazine, painted a grim picture of life in the Roman, walled city. Empty shops, shady men with flyers for lapdancing clubs and even the dark spectre of Mrs Thatcher. Ugh.
There wasn't much comfort to be found in the words of writer Mick Brown, nor in the statistics rolled out to illustrate the claim that Chester, with its dependence on tourism, retail and financial services, is particularly vulnerable to the dreaded credit crunch.
Try this one for size: 'In the Oxford Economics Index of Vulnerability, Chester ranked third in the country, behind the City of London and the London borough of Tower Hamlets.'
The publication of this piece makes for particularly unfortunate timing given today's announcement that Virgin Trains are offering discounted fares to boost visitor numbers to Chester and Cheshire.
But are things really so bad? I've just walked around the centre of Chester and, while there are still plenty of empty shops - as there are in any high street right now - there are also lots of businesses apparently weathering the recession.
So how does Visit Chester & Cheshire respond to the piece? And, while the owner of the shop Ancient Worlds is clearly not happy with his lot, what about the other independent shopkeepers and restauranteurs out there?
Places such as deli Joseph Benjamin, which featured in the Taste Cheshire food trail I covered for the Observer a few weeks back.
Is Chester becoming a homogenised destination of bland chain shops, or does it still retain a special allure, notably for its retail offer?
Let's hear your thoughts. Post your comments below.


  1. I noticed the article referred to a business on Market Street. The business - some upmarket chain selling expensive goods is now defunct...but where is Market Street? I looked on a map, and now I've just googled it. No such place as far as I can see. And that picture was certainly not and high noon that I've ever seen in Chester. Maybe 6am on a summer morning, perhaps...

  2. The story was, I thought, reasonably balanced if strangely focussed on chester (what comes after Chester in that Oxford Eeconomic Index list and how do other cities compare??).
    The apocalyptic imagery that ran alongside it was ill-conceived. Published in a weekend glossy colour supp, the photography takes centre stage and totally misrepresents reality.

  3. Yes, some good points here about the use of photography. I barely recognised my home town in those images. What do other people think?