The Royal revival - City's arcade is on the up again

Maya Derrick

Maya Derrick | 7 Mar 2022, 07:00

It’s Norwich’s grandest shopping strip.

But the Royal Arcade has faced a challenging few years, with businesses closing, empty stores and shoppers browsing elsewhere.

Now, however, the flagship location looks to have turned things around, with new firms moving in and data showing a huge change in its fortunes.

The latest footfall figures for the Arcade show 1.7 million shoppers have passed through in the last 12 months – a huge 85pc leap from the previous year.

Although some of the rise is down to the fact that the city was enduring lockdowns for much of the period, the data shows that the Arcade has bounced back from Covid even more robustly than other areas.

Retail experts believe its strong performance can have an impact on the surrounding retail area, with the Arcade acting as a prestige location to draw in visitors and shoppers to Norwich.

Andy Newman, a consultant who works for several city retailers, said: “For an arcade like this to work, you’ve got to have a good footfall, and that doesn’t work if there are big chunks of empty units all the way down it.

“The fuller it is, the better it is for all the traders in there. Local businesses in the Arcade create a point of difference for the city. A lot of the chains have disappeared and what makes Norwich such a shopping destination is what is in addition to the chains. The more niche retailers we can get into the city, the better it will be for the city centre as a whole.”

The footfall figures come just days after the street received its latest boost, with the arrival of another trader.

The newest tenant is Lauren Collins-Hines, of Lauren Rose Interior Design.

She hopes the store will become a “destination shop” and further enhance the Arcade as a place for luxury and high end shopping.

The next big step for the area will be the opening later this year of the new food hall at the junction with Back of the Inns.

The Arcade’s largest empty unit – which was previously occupied by Jamie’s Italian restaurant – is undergoing a £1.5m refit and will reopen in the summer, as home to a range of independent food and retail stalls.

Traders hope it will act as an anchor tenant, helping to attract yet more people to the retail area.

Also on its way is Gyre and Gimble, a boutique city gin bar which is branching out from its original location in nearby Charing Cross, which opened in 2019.

Co-founder Craig Allison said: “The Royal Arcade is such an iconic location that we’re really excited about moving elements of our existing operation there.

“It’s great to see that a number of other exciting businesses are taking units there too – we think it’s such a positive for the city.”

Even before the pandemic, the Royal Arcade was struggling. In 2019, 15 of its 24 units were empty.

The thoroughfare’s revival comes after a private family-owned business bought the site in September.

Although the identity of the buyers remains a mystery, they vowed to breathe new life into the once-empty units with high end, independent retailers to join the existing tenants.

Susan Blackler, senior designer at Sonkai Jewellers – directly opposite the former Jamie’s Italian site – is excited that more businesses are coming to the arcade.

She said: “We’ve got the lovely interiors and luxury feel. It’s a beautiful building and it’s lovely to have people coming in and doing things that are in keeping with that.”

Carol Cooper of Francis Darrah chartered surveyors said: “We are  anticipating a really positive year for the sector as shoppers return to the city in the numbers last seen in 2019.”

Simon Ashdown, director of LPC1, which runs the arcade on behalf of the owners, added: “We are determined to fill the remaining vacant units with similar quality tenants and can report that we are well on the way to securing them.”

NORWICH’S GRANDEST PIECE OF RETAIL REAL ESTATE

The Royal Arcade was designed at the end of the 19th century by George Skipper, the great Norwich architect also responsible for the Jarrolds building and the Norwich Union – now Aviva – headquarters in Surrey Street.

The Arcade is influenced by the Art Nouveau style, which was popular at the time. The peacock, used in the Arcade’s frieze, was a particularly favoured symbol of the period, with stained glass was also used widely.

It was opened in May 1899 and was considered by far the most fashionable area of Norwich, being hailed as “a fragment from the Arabian Nights dropped into the heart of the old City”.