Traders vying for units in Leicester's Silver Arcade after £3m revamp
Here is the first glimpse inside the landmark Silver Arcade, which is soon to reopen after standing empty for more than a decade.
The Mercury was given the chance to see how the £3 million renovation of the Victorian shopping arcade is shaping up yesterday, as bosses revealed traders were queuing up to set up there.
As this picture shows, the refurbished grade-II listed city centre building will be a spectacular addition to Leicester's shopping scene once again.
About 60 traders are vying for units in the four-storey arcade – the only one of its kind left in the country – which is due to open in time for Christmas.
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Caroline Simpson-Watkinson, director of Harborough London, the agent for owners Lukegate, said there were eight large units, which will be split into smaller spaces, the final number depending on the size of the chosen retailers.
She said: "My phone has been ringing off the hook, which is great because it means we get to choose who gets in and we'll choose traders who complement each other. We want to restore the Silver Arcade to its former glory – it's the only four-storey Victorian shopping centre left in the country.
"It'll be a gateway into The Lanes shopping area and will bring shoppers to this part of town. It will give a real boost to the area."
London company Lukegate has a clear vision for the kind of shops it wants to encourage to the site.
"We have people such as a bespoke diamond trader who's interested, which would be great," Ms Simpson-Watkinson said.
"We love small, independent, local shops – things such as jewellery, cosmetics and handmade handbags."
As well as the independent traders, there will be a demonstration kitchen in the building's basement, where people will be able to take cookery classes.
It is hoped that a restaurant will take over space on the top floor, which would encourage visitors during the evenings.
Martin Traynor, chief executive of Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce, said: "I think that the arcade will perfectly complement the retail offering we have in Leicester.
"Places such as the Highcross won't be a problem, because it's a completely different market. The Highcross is all about big stores, while the Silver Arcade will be small, niche shops."
It has been more than 11 years since the landmark building, which connects Silver Street and Cank Street, was last bustling with shoppers.
In November 2000, the arcade's 64 shopkeepers were told they had one more festive season before they would be closed.
Despite a well-supported petition and outcry from heritage supporters, the century-old outlet could not be saved.
By mid-2001, traders had either relocated or disappeared from the city.
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: "It's absolutely brilliant that it's going to be back in use – it's a unique gem and something we should treasure.
"I remember shopping there when I first came to the city, but it started to get a bit tired looking and then eventually closed, as we know.
"It's fantastic that someone has come along with the money and the vision to bring it back."
Renovation work on the building started in 2010.
While the building is dusty and chaotic at the moment, it will soon be brought to life.
The finished arcade promises to be a classy mix of gunmetal grey, cream and black.
New lifts will replace the rickety old one, and a glass roof will also be installed to fill the building with light.
Architect David Boden, who has been working on the £3m project for four years, said: "It was so dark before because there were so many small shops all packed in together.
"Retail is different now and people want a more open feeling – so we've got a lot of glass to let the light pour in. The biggest concession was getting permission to remove two floors and add a staircase.
"We argued for it because we need better access to the third and fourth floors, which is what the old building was lacking."
Before it closed in 2001, the arcade was home to shops including The Black Cat Book Shop, the Corner Tea House and Groovy Gifts.
"It was a bit grungy the last time round – in its final days anyway," Ms Simpson-Watkinson said.
"It's going to be different now, but we want new traders – we don't want to pull shops from the areas such as The Lanes, because that would be counter-productive. We want the area to thrive."
The new details about the arcade come during the second week of the Mercury's I Love Local Shops campaign, which aims to highlight the independent shops and traders who brighten up high streets across the city and county.
Anyone interested in a unit should e-mail: