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Flying start for Bristol’s Cabot Circus

With the UK economy on a tightrope, the 150 stores in Bristol’s new mall are confident the scheme is on a surer footing.

The opening of the Cabot Circus retail development in Bristol lived up to its name last week, with tightrope walkers, dancers and burlesque star Dita Von Teese wowing the crowds at the launch event.

Some commentators claimed in advance of the opening that it was a particularly daring feat to be opening 1.5 million sq ft feet of retail space as a recession loomed.
However, Cabot Circus has been evolving as a joint venture between developers Hammerson and Land Securities since 2000, as part of Bristol City Council’s long-term plan to regenerate the city centre.The completed scheme has introduced more than 70 new fashion retailers to the area to increase the fashion provision in the city. Cabot Circus also provides housing and leisure facilities including a cinema.

To create the new centre about 44 stores at the Broadmead shopping centre were demolished to make way for a new road and an extra 2,500 parking spaces were also added.
A 170,000sq ft House of Fraser store, a relocation from The Horsefair in Bristol, anchors the main part of the Cabot Circus development, alongside multiples such as Zara, Next, Bank and H&M, which is making its debut in the city.The House of Fraser store houses an impressive list of upmarket brands including Armani Jeans, Hugo Boss, Mulberry and Kenneth Cole. The shop is the department store group’s third major opening this year, after Belfast and High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. But HoF chief executive John King says it represents the first fully realised vision for the store since the group acquired new management early last year.

“Certain decisions about Belfast and High Wycombe had been made before we came on board, but this store is the blueprint for how we want House of Fraser to be,” King says. “We’re also putting elements of the look into stores that we are refurbishing.”The HoF store is impressive, living up to the business’s aim to be the UK’s biggest premium department store chain. Brands have pulled out all the stops, with quality shopfits and punchy brand statements, while the layout is exciting but unfussy.

Richard Wayment, retail operations director at HoF, said: “This scheme is about regenerating the city centre. The out-of-town shopping centre at Cribbs Causeway became the focus [for shoppers], and Broadmead needed investment. Cabot Circus has restored the centre of gravity and gives shoppers what they deserve from the city centre.”
For luxury department store Harvey Nichols, Cabot Circus represents the final piece in its UK portfolio jigsaw, and is intended as its flagship for the south west.

The 37,000sq ft shop, a boutique department store concept along the lines of the store at Dundrum Town Centre in Dublin, anchors the Quakers Friars area of the centre. The area is named after the friaries which have been restored and form part of the new development. The rest of the area, which was previously a car park and service yard, has been transformed to create an upmarket streetscape of premium retailers including Hugo Boss, Reiss, Ted Baker and Cruise, which overlook a continental-style piazza featuring cafes and restaurants.

According to Harvey Nichols commercial director Patrick Hanley, Bristol and its environs provide a wealthy catchment area, with many shoppers already customers of the store. “Our biggest competition is likely to be our London store,” he says. “It is less than two hours away and we know from research that we have a significant number of shoppers there from the Bristol area. He adds: “This is it for us now in the UK. We’ll be concentrating on international expansion. But we did need to have a store in this part of the country.”

Nevertheless, the expectation for Harvey Nichols, which only has seven stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland, has been great. The shop stole a march on the rest of the centre, opening the day before every other retailer. According to Hanley, the store took £25,000 in three hours of trading.
Also at Quakers Friars is upmarket branded chain Cruise. Its retail director Stuart Margetts says: “The city’s retail has been underdeveloped for a long time but there is money in Bristol. The developers have done a great job in getting the right retailers here.”

Hammerson chief executive John Richards acknowledges that there is likely to be an impact on Cribbs Causeway, which is situated about six miles north of the city, but says it is important to redress the balance of retail between out-of-town and city centre locations. “There will inevitably be some displacement but Cribbs is still a big draw. It has a John Lewis and a good line-up of stores,” he says. He acknowledges that shoppers and retailers are facing tough economic times at the moment, but says that the scheme is a long-term plan. “This scheme has been in development for eight years, and with that kind of timescale you’re bound to have some developments that will open at a less favourable point in the economic cycle.

“It’s not about how much retail space is opening in the country – Liverpool, White City, London and Bristol don’t all compete with each other – it’s about what space is right for the catchment area. Retailers have got good deals at Cabot Circus. For example, there’s an average rent-free period of 18 months for units, so a lot of them won’t pay until 2010.

“Cabot Circus brings 75 new retailers to the city. Two years ago it would have been hard to believe that Harvey Nichols, Hugo Boss, Apple and Kurt Geiger would be here.”

New faces in Bristol

Bristol is the eight largest UK city, with an affluent provincial population. The retailers new to the city at Carbot Circus are:

All Saints
American Apparel
Cult Clothing
Fat Face
Fred Perry
Gerry Weber
Guess Accessories
Guess Jeans
Hardy Amies
Harvey Nichols
Hugo Boss
Jane Norman
Kurt Geiger
LK Bennett
Ollie & Nic
Ted Baker
Thomas Pink
TM Lewin
Urban Outfitters

Circus count

140: Number of retailers at the Cabot Circus scheme
2,500: Number of new parking spaces
£500m: Amount invested by development partnership The Bristol Alliance
4,000: Number of new jobs created by the centre
1 million: Square footage of the retail and leisure development

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