Liverpool may be famous for its football teams and The Beatles, but its stature as a serious fashion retail centre is less prominent.
Since its heyday in the 1960s, Liverpool has slipped down the rankings of fashion capitals after a lack of investment in its retail landscape. Stereotypes of lads too fond of tracksuits and girls dressed like WAG wannabes has also taken its toll on the city's fashion credentials.
But the city is reinventing itself in time for its year as European Capital of Culture in 2008.Liverpool city centre is undergoing a huge redevelopment, creating an extra 1.4 million sq ft of retail space as part of the Liverpool One scheme.
The city skyline and waterfront area is now peppered with cranes, while roadworks and environmental improvements mean the flash of yellow hard hats is ubiquitous.
Liverpool One will be the first major retail scheme for the city in decades, and with the likes of John Lewis and Debenhams anchoring the development, it aims to bring the city's retail offer into the big league.
According to developer Grosvenor, a lot of the impetus for Liverpool One came from retailers' demands for larger and more modern retail space in the city. Head of retail leasing Neil Barber says: "Many retailers are already trading well in Liverpool but are desperate for more space. John Lewis will be 40% bigger, and Topshop is expanding its store to be one of its biggest outside London. Retailers now want different, much larger units. Liverpool One has the same space as Bluewater in Kent - about 1.5 million sq ft - but only half the number of units."
About 70% of the space is already let. New Look, USC, Karen Millen and Oasis are among the retailers to have signed up and Grosvenor is also in discussions with independent retailers from Liverpool and the surrounding areas to add to the retail mix.
The city's existing retail property offer is surprisingly limited, with just a few hundred metres of prime retail frontage along Church Street, the main shopping thoroughfare. It houses most of the city's mainstream fashion offer including Marks & Spencer, Next, Zara, Gap, Topshop and H&M. This is connected to Bold Street, a hotspot for independent retailers. The St John's and Clayton Square shopping centres are more traditional and offer a more value-oriented mix.
To the north-east of Church Street, only a few minutes' walk away, is the Whitechapel area, which houses more niche retailers including Reiss and Ted Baker. The launch of the nearby Metquarter shopping development here has maintained the label quotient, with the arrival of retailers including Flannels, Hugo Boss and Armani Exchange.
The Liverpool One scheme will significantly broaden the retail and leisure offer to encompass an extra 42 acres of the city, as well as opening up pedestrian flow to the River Mersey and the Albert Dock.
The development, which is slated to open in late spring next year, will have three distinct fashion areas. South John Street will house the mainstream retailers, with Debenhams and John Lewis occupying opposite ends. Paradise Street will feature young fashion and streetwear, while more niche and boutique-style shops will be located in Peter's Lane. Hanover Street will be the homewares centre.
Liverpool One is particularly targeting local independent retailers to widen the retail mix. There are 12 units of 1,000 sq ft to 2,500 sq ft that have been set aside for this purpose.
John Lewis, which traded in the city as George Henry Lee until a couple of years ago, is relocating from its Church Street site to a 40% larger store. Manager of retail projects Simon Stone says the retailer wants to take advantage of city's renaissance. "Liverpool has always been a significant contributor to John Lewis's sales, but in the past 15 years or so trade has not developed as fast as in other cities, or nearby locations such as Manchester or Cheadle in Cheshire. Our shop in Liverpool chases our top 10 stores in terms of sales and the new shop will push it up further."
Liverpool One is not the only scheme under way in the city - the £140m Kings Waterfront development will include an arena, conference centre and flats. Also on the waterfront will be a £15m cruise liner terminal and an extension to the Leeds and Liverpool canal.
Several hotels are also springing up around the city. As well as Liverpool One's two hotels, a Jurys Inn is planned as part of the Kings Waterfront scheme, while a Beatles-themed hotel called Hard Days Night is set to open in autumn this year on North John Street.
The city's population is increasing, and 5,000 new homes are currently going through the planning process. What's more, Liverpool's existing business district to the north-west of Liverpool One is also undergoing a revamp.
It is hoped that all this regeneration will pull in more visitors from nearby Chester and the Wirral, while also stemming the loss of local shoppers to rival retail centres with a more developed offer. Manchester's Trafford Centre and retail parks at Cheshire Oaks and Speke just outside Liverpool are attractive destinations with free parking, while The Golden Square centre in Warrington, Lancashire, reopens at double the size this month, so competition for the area's fashion spend is steadily increasing.
Although Liverpool One's retail space is 70% let, the names confirmed so far are mostly the usual suspects. Debenhams will be new to the city, but many others already trade there.
However, Barber says the Liverpool One shopping experience will be unique. "This is not a boring box or covered centre development," he says. "We are building around existing streets, and opening up a whole new part of the city. There will be a fantastic cinema, a large park and great places to eat, as well as the fashion. People will come to experience everything the city has to offer. We are also talking to local businesses with a view to getting them into the scheme."
Liverpool's status as European Capital of Culture 2008 is set to bring in an extra £250m of spending. The city's regular shopping population of 557,000 will rise to 630,000 in three years, according to real estate firm CB Richard Ellis's National Survey of Local Shopping Patterns.
Stone says Liverpool will undoubtedly get a lease of life. "The Metquarter has started things off, Primark is coming to Church Street, and M&S is expanding," he explains. "Retailers are investing in the city and Liverpool One will help to create a significant retail offer that will restore the city's status as a regional retail centre."
LIVERPOOL ONE AT A GLANCE
- 1.4 million sq ft of retail space over 160 units
- Anchored by John Lewis and Debenhams
- 230,000 sq ft of restaurants, cafes and bars, a 14-screen cinema and two hotels
- Five-acre park
- New bus station and parking for 3,000 cars
Retailers signed to date:
Store - sq ft
John Lewis - 240,000
Debenhams - 185,000
Topshop/Topman - 65,500
New Look - 36,000
Sports World - 27,000
Virgin Megastore - 18,000
JD Sports/Nike - 16,000
Barclays - 14,670
USC - 9,154
Superdrug - 6,300
Oasis - 5,800
Scotts - 5,600
Goldsmiths - 3,907
Clinton Cards - 3,771
Karen Millen - 3,400
Carphone Warehouse - 3,040
Barratts - 3,000
Jane Norman - 2,753
H Samuel - 2,600
Game - 2,100
Ernest Jones - 1,800
Orange - 1,650
O2 - 1,600
The Perfume Shop - 1,259
- Liverpool One's agents are Cushman & Wakefield, Tushingham Moore, and Strutt & Parker. CB Richard Ellis advises Grosvenor Liverpool Fund, which finances the project
LIVERPOOL SHOPPING: THE FACTS
£654 - Liverpool's annual per capita spend on fashion, above the UK average of £641 and ahead of Manchester and Birmingham, according to RCT Analytics
£300m - The amount of inward investment received by the city in 2003-2004 - more than any other UK region
4.7m - Number of people living within the city centre's catchment area, with 1.8m within a 30-minute drive
5 - Liverpool will enter the top five retail centres ranked by consumer spend in 2009, according to retail analyst CACI.