Barons Quay: ‘Build it and they will come’
With the Ice Cream Farm’s second site set to open at Northwich’s Barons Quay, Place North West spoke to its owner and founder Jonathan Fell about leisure-led retail, and how retail will have to adapt to survive.
Barons Quay, a 225,000 sq ft development delivered at a projected cost of nearly £80m by Cheshire West & Chester Council, has been under the spotlight since it first opened on a phased basis in 2016. While initially it struggled to attract retail tenants, the scheme has gained some traction with the announcement of Puddle Ducks, a children’s swimming lessons provider, taking a 3,300 sq ft unit.
This comes a few months after Barons Quay announced a cocktail bar and ‘Barons Quay Social’ earlier in the summer, pointing towards a radical shift from what was envisaged as a retail-led scheme into a leisure-based mixed-use site. This adds to the area’s initial leisure offering which has been limited to an Odeon Cinema and a Wildwood restaurant for some time.
Fell, who is set to open his first outlet called Sticky Paws in the Flavour Forest at Barons Quay in either January or February next year, said that by continuing on this path of a leisure-driven scheme, it will flip the switch and thrive instead of just survive.
“From my point of view, it could become a great leisure hub. Barons Quay doesn’t need to exclude retail but there are nationwide issues with retail at the moment, and we need to focus on what the locals want,” he said.
“We need to go back to the thinking block and look at more localised leisure activities to create a secondary spend. Retailers now need to think about creating experiences which will encourage people to leave their houses to get something in store that you don’t get from online. Big national brands are great, but both them and independent stores need to create that experiential aspect of retail which makes it almost a hybrid of a leisure provider and a retailer.”
While retail is now picking up some momentum at Barons Quay – H&M opened before Christmas, while River Island also signed up this summer, but for Fell, a shift towards a more local leisure-led feel will help to attract punters who might look elsewhere within Cheshire for a day out.
“Manchester and Liverpool are ahead of the game when it comes to retail and leisure. They’ve expanded their offer to include crazy golf, and flight club, and now an axe-throwing place, and rural towns are still playing catch up to them. But there is still a huge gap in the market for activities for younger people, even in the bigger cities.
“There are a lot of things available for the teen and above market, but for the families that want to go shopping who have pre-schoolers, there doesn’t seem to be anything to address them or their needs. When you have children, you don’t want them to sit inside playing video games, you want to get them out. This is what we’re trying to do at Baron’s Quay.”
In terms of Fell’s hopes for his own store in Barons Quay, how does he think he will attract people to what was previously a dauntingly-vacant part of the town centre?
“Build it and they will come. The offer for us to move into Barons Quay is a great opportunity from Cheshire West & Chester Council as we were previously only in a rural location. I think people will be shocked by the store as there isn’t currently anything like what we are both visually and by what we’ll have on offer.
“We will create footfall, and we’ll show that you don’t need to move into somewhere busy to drive people towards you. People will start to recognise that, and we’re going to prove it at Barons Quay.”