Arcade fired-up

14th Sep

Over coffee in Paragon Arcade you can just about hear the tunes from the music shop in between the chatter of curious shoppers, drinkers and diners getting to know the traders, making new friends and bumping into old ones they haven’t seen in ages. Collectively, the sound of a trend being bucked.
It would be an overstatement to say that the arcade is single-handedly driving the renaissance of retail, but it is definitely demonstrating that small is beautiful and hinting that independence will be integral to the return of happier times to the high street.
Growing numbers of big barns are trying to reinvent themselves as havens for small traders, the new take on the old indoor markets where instead of open stalls everybody has their own front door. If they get it right they might end up with something like Paragon Arcade, but the starting point has to be a recognition that this place didn’t just happen.
Allenby Commercial bought the arcade in 2017, having relocated its own office from Hessle to the Old Town of Hull the previous year because of a desire to be at the heart of the City of Culture buzz.
Managing director Andrew Allenby revealed he had harboured a dream for years of buying the arcade, which was built in 1891 by Sir Alfred Gelder and listed for architectural interest in 1994. Allenbys made its move when the previous owners, a local family that had held the property for about 60 years, finally decided to sell.
The company’s other city centre projects include the restoration of Danish Buildings and the Grade II listed Bayles House in High Street, conversion of derelict offices and shops into the Hideout Hotel next to Hull Minster and – coming soon – the exciting transformation of Europa House into Monocle.
But Paragon Arcade is more public and presents living proof of the Allenby ethos of developing communities beyond buildings. The fact that the tenants work so well together is no accident. They are all carefully selected to complement each other and even if their activities overlap in parts they fit together because of a flexibility of products, services and – above all – mindset.
When the arcade reopened after lockdown it unveiled two new tenants, with Nordic Rosie selling homeware and nursery items and Out of the Attic fulfilling the dream of two friends from Sir Henry Cooper High School who decided 40 years ago they wanted to run their own record shop.
Four more openings have taken the place to capacity. Nordic Rosie’s sister shop, Paper Rosie, is next door and sells stylish stationery and cards. Milchig sells things made with milk – ice cream, cakes, cookies and brownies all made on the premises, as well as cereal milk, which is Cherry View Milk given extra flavour by soaking cornflakes that are then removed. It sounds odd but has garnered rave reviews.
Upstairs next to Milchig you’ll find Ben Middleton with his Three Blind Mice tattoo parlour. Ben’s partner Elena Giorgiou persevered in the face of the Government’s prevarication and is now in business downstairs with her Neon Velvet brow bar.
Three people at a table outside Paper Rosie are served plates of sandwiches from Sarah Cutler at Marla’s. Coffee comes from Two Gingers, which also delivers to diners at the Hispanist, where social distancing has cut the capacity inside but the chance to place a few tables in the arcade has softened the blow.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch of small plates of Spanish and Latin American delights – tacos, croquetas, baby squid – and learned that chef and owner Nick Hill had decided to eat out, heading to Marla’s for what’s becoming a destination sandwich of bacon, egg, halloumi and curry ketchup. Both places along with another neighbour, White Rabbit Chocolatiers, were given a boost by Eat Out to Help Out and are now hopeful that diners will do the right thing and help them keep the cutlery rattling until Christmas.
You’ll find quirky and classy stuff for your home at KODA Interiors, such as the intriguing conical flasks burning essential oils, and Homestead Store, where Charlie Broomfield and his dog Rummie were delighted with the sale of two nice, casual chairs crafted from rattan and metal. When they’re gone they’re gone, but whatever Charlie brings in next will be similarly creative and exclusive.
Charlie is one of half a dozen sole traders who include knitwear and design graduate Ellen Crabtree with her Belle and Benjamin babywear business as well as longer-term tenants Flower Corner and Paragon Barbers, the earliest arrival in 1942. Phil Hutchinson, the current owner, has been cutting hair in Paragon Arcade since 1985 and watching businesses come and go.
He remembers a newspaper office at Flower Corner, a cake maker, print shop and Matador Travel where KODA now operates, a sweet shop and before that a tobacconist at the Hispanist. In various other locations there were Smiffy’s fashions, Hair by Frances and a wool shop, but Phil can’t remember the arcade being at capacity in his time there.
Segal’s Jewellers moved into the arcade in 1963 and still occupies one unit that used to be a charity shop. The decision by Segal’s last year to move its other two units into a brand new showroom owned by Allenbys just around the corner illustrates the landlord’s policy of nurturing businesses and supporting their expansion, confident of bringing in new tenants from a waiting list.
When Polly Langham opened Milk hair salon, she said: “The big attraction is the location. There isn’t a better one in the area. I love the look of Paragon Arcade, the other businesses are a real draw as well and I want to keep it intimate and exclusive and make the most of where we are.”
Between them the businesses support nearly 40 jobs, which is remarkable for such a small space, and they all benefit from a camaraderie reinforced by special events including late-night Christmas opening and After Hours, a monthly Saturday evening get-together that will resume as soon as restrictions permit.
Ben and Elena got to know the other tenants by attending After Hours and hatched the plan to set up their own businesses over lunch at Marla’s. Aaron Crossland used to work at Two Gingers and Rebekah Suddaby worked at Marla’s. Now they run Milchig.
Caroline Hawksford had wanted a shop in Paragon Arcade since she was a little girl and has now teamed up with her sister Lucy Rose and niece Shannon Bean to open Nordic Rosie and Paper Rosie.
Online sales underpin the retail sites for many of the tenants, but they all benefit from their place in the rich portfolio of businesses in Paragon Arcade, each of them hand-picked to attract curious customers and heighten dwell time.
It’s the sort of place where you could call in for a coffee and leave several hours later having bought all sorts of wonderful things while also taking a break for elevenses, lunch, a hairdo and a tattoo. And a bit of thinking time to come up with your own business idea!
If you found it in London or any other major city you’d be posting photographs and asking why we don’t have one in Hull. Well, we have. All to ourselves.

BusinessWorks Hull & East Yorkshire summer 2021

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