Shops in Portsmouth: Cascades Shopping Centre manager says city centre must offer "more than retail" to attract shoppers
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Andrew Phillip, who took over as centre manager at Cascades Shopping Centre in 2017 but has worked at the site since 2015, said shops can no longer rely just upon the products they sell to draw customers out of their homes and onto the city centre.
The shopping centre currently has at least eight empty units – but Andrew says there are plans in the pipeline to see most of them filled by the end of the year. He also said that in the changing retail landscape, the Cascades has embraced a role as a “community shopping centre” by focusing on catering to the needs of local people alongside using its units more innovatively.
Andrew said: “There was a time when retail could be just retail, and there didn’t have to be other elements to it, but we can all do that sitting on our sofas now with our phones.
So, you have to offer something else.
“We have always been looking at experiential stuff and having something perhaps a bit different from what you get at other shopping centres.
“We are here for local people. You have got Gunwharf [Quays] down the road for tourists - and possibly more aspirational spending - but we’re here to serve what people need every week of the year.”
On May 13 this year, Cascades became home to Portsmouth’s first Library of Things, a volunteer-run project where people can borrow infrequently used items that they perhaps cannot afford to buy or do not have the space to keep. The unit is operated by the Share Portsmouth and also offers a “repair cafe” service where people can get their broken appliances fixed rather than throwing them away.
Andrew said the addition has proved popular with visitors and is “settling in nicely” to the retail destination.
He also acknowledged that it has become more difficult to attract retailers to set up shop in the city centre due to mounting pressures which particularly hit independent businesses.
Andrew added: “With the way business rates were until this year in Portsmouth, taking on even a small unit as an independent was a big commitment before you talk about any other costs alongside it. You’re also trying to fight an environment where people are shrinking back and we have lost a lot of big names from the high street.”
A lot has changed over the years at the shopping centre since it was first opened in 1989. Its popular basement level food court was closed in 2004 as part of a massive £20m revamp of the western end of the shopping centre, which also saw the glass elevators disappear. High street staples such as M&S and Dorothy Perkins have also said farewell to the Cascades, while other popular names such as Lush and New Look have opened there in recent years.
Andrew said that Spoon World Buffet – which opened in 2020 – is now a replacement for the food court and added that work was underway to get the shopping centre ready for Christmas. This year, Cascades’ annual Christmas grotto – which is currently hiring elves and Father Christmases – will have a twist and be themed around a popular festive film.