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Denmark Street retailers bunker down

Jory Mackay
Denmark Street retailers bunker down

With the completion of the Denmark Street development not planned until 2016 at the earliest, the street’s MI retailers are preparing for the long road to redevelopment...

Plans to revitalise the area around Denmark Street were submitted to Camden Council last month, and while all those who work and visit the birthplace of British rock can agree that it is in much need of a proper upgrade, the independent shops that trade in the area fear that it may not come soon enough.

In its current state, with the Crossrail development blocking direct access from Tottenham Court Road, Denmark Street has been choked off from its once plentiful footfall. With at least three years until the development is completed (not to mention the current state of the MI retail industry) many of the shops that trade on the street are just trying to keep their heads above water.

“From what I’ve been told about the way they’re going to develop [Denmark Street], it will be in our favour – they want to keep the musical focus of the street but the development is putting a lot of stress on our business,” said James Dunn, who has worked on Denmark Street for more than a decade and is now assistant manager of Rockers music.

“It’s tough out here and the main focus is just lasting until the development happens. The rents have increased constantly over the years.  Our rent’s just gone up £20,000 and that’s just one shop – it’s the same case for every shop on the street.”

Over his ten-year stint on Denmark Street, Dunn has seen the area change significantly. With the loss of Gibson’s artist relations office in the early 2000s and the closure of the Astoria in 2009, Dunn says that the amount of musicians and fans flocking to the street has seriously decreased.

 “It was a quite a happy atmosphere at one point and then Crossrail knocked down the Astoria – one of the biggest venues we had in the area – and we lost a lot of foot traffic – all of the artists that would play there, and all of the people going to gigs.”

Other retailers on the street are feeling the squeeze as well with Justin Brown, a 12-year veteran of the area and manager of Chris Bryants Musical Instruments, commenting that footfall in the area has gone down 30 to 40 per cent. However, Brown also believes that his shop and the others in the area are in a unique position to weather the current economic storm.

“At least we’re in this area with all of its history and all of the shops together,” says Brown. “We’re still bringing people in, especially tourists.”

“Most people that come to us are specifically coming for one reason – to see us,” added Liam Young, assistant manager at Sax.co.uk.

“I think it’s a really good time for the street. Everyone’s independent and there’s no big chain owning everything right now,” said Crispin Weir of Regent Sounds. “Even though business is much quieter, there’s a great sense of camaraderie.”

So while the question remains whether or not the group of unique shops that has made Denmark Street what it is today will still be there when the development finally takes shape, those who have spent a decade or more trading on the street believe the most important thing is just to be there when it does.

“I’ve spoken with a few people on the street and everyone’s of the same mind – when this development eventually happens, if we’re all still here, it could be a good atmosphere again. So we need to do everything we can to stay alive,” said Dunn. “Stay alive – not make enormous amounts of profits.”

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Tags: mi pro digital edition , mi retail , denmark street , MI Pro March 2013 , Denmark Street development

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