It’s no secret that the high street has been struggling for several years but with the crippling effects of the pandemic has been pushed over the edge in recent months.
Manchester’s King Street of today sees many empty units and vacated shops with a kind of quiet sadness lingering over its cobbled, traffic-free parade. While this silence fabricates a depressing present, it is not the fibres of its past. Once a hub for England’s banking industry during the Industrial Revolution, it left behind beautiful black and white buildings and elegant details. Thankfully its architectural beauty has left an art gallery and some fine restaurants still standing but recent months have seen the permanent closure of Boots, Monsoon and Timberland, Phase Eight and now Jigsaw.
King Street is not alone and in fact acts a microcosm for the rest of the UK, nay Europe and beyond. With crippling rents, an increase in online shopping and now several lockdowns, high street stores are forced to pack up shop. Not to mention, the rise of TikTok and sustainable fashion mean youngsters are shopping second hand and/or vintage as a way to claim autonomy over a unique and oftentimes more affordable sense of style.
So, what’s the solution? When landlords find their lucrative units empty, they become more open to being flexible and offering space to those who were priced out long ago, namely creative pop-ups from more independent brands as well as artists and designers.
Liam Hopkins is a multidisciplinary artist from Denton who is causing quite the stir on King Street. Most recently, Hopkins has launched Lazerian Space, a hybrid pop-up art gallery come food and drink spot within which he collaborates with local suppliers to offer freshly brewed coffees or alcoholic beverages as well as cakes and pastries – all while visitors enjoy sitting in one of Liam’s colourful, space-like dining pods.
The lining of the chairs is made from 6,500 plastic bottles removed from the ocean and this sustainable focus extends to the menu which is ever-changing as the idea is to create a fully sustainable circular economy. They’ll also have the choice of using recyclable plastic for their drinks, to drink from space-age style pouches or simply go for a ceramic cup. While wooden cutlery will be repurposed in the Lazerian workshop as a heat and power source – mainly for ceramic usage.
Hopkins has remarked how, interestingly, people “put down their mobile phones and actually talk to one another. Because each pod is so private, they can completely relax. It offers a calm space that encourages you to focus on the present. Something many of us perhaps lost pre-pandemic.”
Across the road is Tille Peel’s Pop-Up Club, an artisan market featuring the work of local designers and makers which ends in August.
“Like anywhere, Manchester has suffered greatly over the last 18 months,” says Liam. “I wanted to experiment with new concepts of bringing a creative experience that will appeal to a wide variety of people and be able to stimulate all the senses. There definitely seems to be an appetite for something different on the high street”.