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Culture Vultures

As Liverpool gears up for its year as European Capital of Culture in 2008, the city's retailers are working out how best to profit from the celebrations

What do Copenhagen, Glasgow, Athens, Stockholm, Florence, Madrid and Paris have in common? The answer is that they have all held the title of European Capital of Culture - a project created by the European Union in 1985 and now recognised as a sure-fire catalyst for renewal and profile raising.

Next year, it's Liverpool's turn, and early signs point to equally far-reaching benefits.

The city's retail offering has long been overshadowed by Manchester and Leeds, but is set for a major overhaul with the arrival of Grosvenor's 160-store, £900 million Liverpool One scheme. Retail will also reap the rewards of the city's Capital of Culture status, thanks to a rise in visitors and a higher profile because of publicity surrounding the event.

In the run-up to 2008, tourist numbers already look impressive: since Liverpool was announced as Capital of Culture, visitor figures have more than doubled. Next year's "legacy effect" is projected to account for 17% of new jobs created in tourism by 2012.

Glasgow, of course, has been here before. The UK's last Capital of Culture in 1990, it saw a improvement in its reputation (albeit unquantifiable), more jobs and, perhaps more importantly, a lasting legacy of urban regeneration.

Paul Slater, managing director of Slater Menswear, which has stores in both Liverpool and Glasgow, says the two cities have more than a passing similarity. "They were both major cities of the Empire and were great trading ports. Glasgow's Capital of Culture status focused the mind of public and private bodies and propelled the city into a different league," he says.

Slater argues that the biggest impact of Capital of Culture status was on Glasgow's image and reputation, rather than its traditionally strong retail offering. "The resurrection of Glasgow was important," he says. "I was a typical local in that before it happened I thought it would be too high-brow and a load of rubbish. But the city gained lots of positive press and it definitely gave pride back to the Glaswegians."

Phil Wood, partner at cultural planning consultancy Comedia, says Glasgow's appointment as Capital of Culture marked a turning point in the type of city that was selected. "Glasgow's selection shocked everyone," he says. "The city was known for heavy drinking and razor fights, but Capital of Culture status included everyone and became about urban regeneration, suburban improvement and popular culture."

Wood argues that Liverpool 2008 will follow a similar pattern, but warns that the retail renaissance must be done with lots of sensitivity and will have to provide real variety.

He says: "Liverpool has lost much of its retail power to Manchester. It wants to win that back, but not at the expense of losing popular opinion. Liverpudlians have firm views; the last thing they want is a few swanky shops. It's a real balancing act. The city has to attract international brands, but not at the expense of becoming another corporate retail city."

But Jason Harborow, chief executive of the Liverpool Culture Company, whose task it is to deliver the cultural programme in the run-up to 2008 and beyond, insists that a combination of Liverpool's Capital of Culture status and the new Liverpool One centre will achieve its aim of putting the city on the retail destination map.

He says: "In the 1970s and 1980s Liverpool was a major retail destination. It then went into decline during the 1990s, and it's fair to say that people have seen Manchester as more attractive. But Liverpool One means the city is turning itself into a destination for locals as well as just tourists."

This optimism is echoed by Liverpool's independent retailers, although some have yet to plan specific tie-ins. Tim Keating, owner of Drome, which has traded in the city for 18 years and has three shops selling designer womenswear and menswear, says: "The City of Culture status is very important for Liverpool, so it's important for us. We are excited by it. But at the moment there's a lot of building work going on, so it's difficult to plan against.

"We haven't got anything set in stone, but we will do something. I hope we will be able to tie in with the music and art events going on in the city centre, which will appeal to our customers."

Chris Lee, managing director of men's lifestyle store Microzine, is using next year as a springboard for a range of launches and events. The Liverpool branch will display in-store art by artist Anthony Brown and will work with brands including Fred Perry on a range of art T-shirts. The store is also launching an own-label training shoe to tie in with the celebrations.

Lee says: "Capital of Culture is great, but as with anything you have to make your own opportunity. In my opinion, too many people are waiting around to see what happens rather than planning for it. We are expecting a lot more people to come through the store because of it."

Paul Woods, who owns menswear store Encore, located seven miles from the city centre, says: "Liverpool's regeneration will filter through to everyone, but city centre retailers will benefit the most. We haven't sat down and discussed what we are doing in any detail - we will look at events next year and see what we can do.

"People are going to be staying in and around the city in large numbers, so it can only be good for business. Everyone is waiting for the building work to finish, so at this stage it's difficult to know how it will look."

Debenhams and John Lewis are the two retailers that will anchor Liverpool One: John Lewis's 240,000 sq ft store will trade across four floors. Managing director Margaret Jacques says the retailer will "play its part" in 2008 celebrations, but specific initiatives have yet to be finalised.

She adds: "The Capital of Culture year made a huge impact on Glasgow, which is still being felt. I'm confident it will do the same for Liverpool, and will increase awareness of the reasons to come here and shop."

2008's Cultural legacy

- Tourist visits to Liverpool will increase from 8.3 million in 2003 to 11.1m by 2008

- Visitor expenditure is projected to rise from £261m in 2000 to £547m in 2008, based upon 11.1m visits

- By 2012, 13,200 jobs in the cultural industries (tourism, sport, heritage and creative industries) will have been created due to new developments and the Capital of Culture effect

- The Capital of Culture legacy effect will account for 17% of new jobs created in tourism by 2012.

Source: ERM

LIVERPOOL 2008 HIGHLIGHTS

- A year-long programme of free street performances and public art, beginning with the Winter Lights Festival

- Liverpool's Edge Hill railway station will be transformed into an arts centre

- A series of new venues will open in 2008, including the 10,000-seat Liverpool Arena, a gallery and museum at the University of Liverpool, and a new art and design academy at Liverpool John Moores University

- The People's Festival in June: a weekend celebration of working-class culture. Fashion will be represented by a catwalk show featuring footballers' wives and girlfriends, while football and music will also be included

- A maritime festival in July, featuring The Tall Ships' Races 2008, involving 3,000 sailors from across Europe.

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