A Wander in the Northern Quarter

This week I have taken an enforced break from two wheeled matters, having been amongst other places in Manchester.  I have always found the city centre to be a pretty uninspiring place: the sleaze of Piccadilly Gardens fades into the anonymous concrete hell that is the Arndale Centre, while continued northwards travel immerses you into the footballers wives style nightmare that is King Street, home to innumerable designer boutiques.  However this time, I found time to stroll in the Northern Quarter, which is a little area that runs from Oldham Street up to Victoria Station in a set of parallel streets and back alleys.

The area feels a little bit like a small slice of New York with its old, dark buildings and edgy atmosphere.  The usual contingent of fixie-riding urban hipsters are to be found in the trendy clothes shops, and the general attitude is of course pure Manchester, but it’s still an enjoyable place to saunter around with a camera on a sunny day.

What is nice about the area is that there are still plenty of long-established, and seemingly viable old-fashioned retailers rubbing shoulders with the new hip elite.  The shop above is an office supply store, and I loved the old till rolls and other miscellanea on display.  A few more back streets and I came across the lovely Northern Flower store, complete with a cheering street display.

It’s nice to see an area regenerated in this way: small, independent shops with their own look and feel are far more interesting than another street of chain stores.  Ok, like my recent jaunt to Spitalfields, I got the same impression that the whole place is rather too trendy for its own good, but time will tell with such places.  It is generally accepted in Mancunian circles that the revival of this part of the city was kick-started back in the early 1990s by the late, great Tony Wilson, whose Factory Records opened the Dry Bar on Oldham Street at a time when this part of town held no appeal to the masses.  Apart from the legendary Eastern Bloc records, which still exists a few doors down from Dry, there were at the time few good things to be found as one trekked from Victoria towards the centre.  Wilson, the self-proclaimed ‘cultural catalyst’, had great foresight in choosing to invest money in such a down at heel part of the city, yet he obviously saw the potential: the architecture and character of the area  are notable and with the benign indulgence of the City Council, who eventually accepted the vision that Wilson spawned, a whole host of small businesses were spawned.

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