Shopping centres and outlets
Already the largest city economy in the UK outside of London, in the top three most popular retail centres in England for the 14th year running, new gleaming hotel towers seem to be springing up everywhere, old centres are being transformed and new malls, like Grand Central, are changing the face of the city. The biggest redevelopments are actually outside of the city centre. Over at the NEC near Solihull, Resorts World features such retail outlets as Antler, Nike Factory Store, Next, Sole Trader, Luke 1977 and Skate store Vans. Then, at Longbridge, you’ll find the biggest M&S in the West Midlands while, at the other side of the city in Castle Bromwich, The Fort has recently welcomed the arrival of Primark, the biggest store in the shopping centre. And Primark’s expansion isn’t stopping there. In Spring 2019, it will be opening a five-floor store, the world’s largest Primark, on Birmingham’s High Street.
The mammoth Grand Central and the John Lewis Store are, of course, the jewels in Birmingham’s retail crown. The architecturally-bold Grand Central has a mirror-polished stainless steel façade enveloping the entire station and shopping centre while, inside, the huge glass atrium roof floods the spacious concourse with natural light. Under this you’ll find familiar names like TM Lewin, L’Occitane, Fat Face, Monsoon and Accessorize alongside standalone first timers to the city that include Foyles, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Joules, Kiehls, Cath Kidston, Pylones, The White Company, Hobbs, Giraffe and, specialising in oriental, middle eastern and Arabian perfumery, Opulent Perfumes.
With 250,000 sq ft of retail space, its anchor tenant, the £35 million John Lewis store is the biggest John Lewis outside London and is stuffed to the roof with all manner of famous brand names. A £60 million iconic landmark of architectural design with 15,000 spun aluminium discs inspired by a Paco Rabanne chainmail dress and listed by style bible FHM as one of the world’s coolest buildings, Selfridges has recently undergone a £20 million upgrade that has brought an expanded perfume and beauty section and the installation of 360 degree windows between its entrance and the Bullring. In store, you’ll find global superstar Beyoncé’s ‘athleisure’ fashion line, Ivy Park, Victoria Beckham’s acclaimed V by VB line, collections from Stella McCartney, Paul Smith and Alexander McQueen, and an exclusive outlet for Chinese fashion selection, MO&CO and Louis Vuitton, as well as the edgy fashions of Trapstar, Hood By Air and Pigalle. Celebrity make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury also has her first counter outside of London.
The architecturally-bold Grand Central has a mirror-polished stainless steel façade enveloping the entire station and shopping centre while, inside, the huge glass atrium roof floods the spacious concourse with natural light
All of your favourite brands
In the heart of the city, alongside Harvey Nichols with Italian ready-to-wear fashions of Armani Collezioni and British clothing range McQ Alexander McQueen, the Mailbox also hosts Gieves and Hawkes, LK Bennett, bespoke kitchens specialists Kitchen Gallery, the first standalone Calvin Klein Underwear outside London and Manchester and one of the UK’s leading bridal retailers, The Wedding Club. Newly arrived are English Brands with its hand-made leather shoes and high-end men’s fashion brands and shortlisted in the Drapers Independent Awards 2018, Best New Retailer category, Burrows & Hare offering men’s premium clothing, grooming and lifestyle products. Presided over by the famous bronze bull, the Bullring has seen the arrival of Michael Kors with his world-renowned, award-winning luxury accessories, fragrances and ready-to-wear products, a standalone store for British contemporary fashion brand, Whistles, the sexy lingerie of Victoria’s Secret and new locations for Ted Baker and the Spanish-influenced fashions of Mango.
As well as Debenhams, among the mall’s many stores fashion fanatics will also find Kurt Geiger, Forever 21, denim specialists G-Star Raw and British designer clothing label Luke 1977 alongside other such familiar names as FCUK, Gap, Zara, New Look, Hugo Boss, H&M and Lacoste. Recent fashion arrivals include New Look Men, a standalone Coach store and Russell & Bromley. There’s outdoor clothing from Jack Wolfskin, shoe specialists Skechers and Schuh (who also have a branch at The Fort), and the vintage 60s and 70s inspired products of Fossil. As well as a wallet-punishing collection of jewellers and a Disney store for the kids, how can any self-respecting chocaholic resist the temptations of Hotel Chocolat, the British-owned phenomenon committed to real, authentic chocolate with an entrance hall styled like a five-star hotel.
Meanwhile, the Link, the walkway between Grand Central Station Bull Ring, boasts Pretty Green, a brand built on British music heritage founded by Liam Gallagher, Luke 1977, Ben Sherman and footwear specialists Irregular Choice’s only West Midlands store. There’s also Vincent Van Doodle, a quirky art and homeware shop selling anything from prints of DNA strands to Stephen Hawking throw cushions and mugs. There’s a huge car park beneath the centre but, be warned, if you’re going to spend some time here the charges can spiral into designer prices, too. Head downwind from the Bullring into High Street, and you’ll find Waterstones book store, then turn to the left and make your way to Corporation Street and there’s yet more high street staples, among them Urban Outfitters and one of only six New Era cap stores (and not just caps) in Europe. There’s all manner of independent retailers inside the Oasis Market while, hidden away in Needless Alley, there’s Disorder which, with its own Birmingham-made menswear designer label and stocks of exclusive names, was recommended as one of five reasons to visit Birmingham by The Guardian. Specialist sports store Up & Running is to be found in the Grand complex in Colmore Row, the city’s latest retail and office development, joining premium brand bikes outlet Cycle Republic, its first store in Birmingham.
Colmore Row is also home to bespoke shoemakers Crockett & Jones. The streets leading off Corporation Street also harbour their own boutique attractions. Find Ethel Street and you’ll find the stylishly minimalist Autograph with its Vivienne Westwood, Corpa Nova and Dried Van Noten labels, while the brick-paved Cannon Street with its traditionally-fronted stores throws down another gauntlet for fashionistas with names that include White Stuff, Jigsaw, long-established gentlemen’s tailors Rosan and Nathan and Slaters Menswear.
If the budget’s tight, New Street has more affordable options with Burton, Blue Banana and H&M’s new flagship store. Things get more upmarket as you near Victoria Square with the likes of Muji and, if you happen to be around over Christmas, from November 16 to December 24 this stretch of New Street and the Square itself is transformed into the ever popular Frankfurt Market and Craft Fair with over 120 stalls selling a variety of hand-made toys and craft goods, though perhaps bigger incentives are the Gluhwein, German beer and grilled sausages. Just off New Street lies Piccadilly Arcade, one of the city’s three historic Victorian arcades worth visiting as much for the architecture as the shops. Featuring a splendid painted ceiling, its stores include nail salon Marco Benito, Cotswold Outdoor and jewellery designers Smithsonia.
Just a few steps down, is the plush Burlington Arcade, another architectural gem with a striking glass atrium and home to leading hair stylists Bad Apple Hair. Just behind the Arcade, in Stephenson Street, you can sample an authentic taste of Greece at family-run delicatessen, All Greek. While you’re near New Street station, close to the rear entrance there’s also a branch of TK Maxx with two floors offering incredible savings on everything from designer clothing to perfumes, electrical goods and homeware. If you’re a comics geek, walk further up Smallbrook Queensway for Nostalgia & Comics for a whole world of comics, film and TV-related magazines, toys, t-shirts and other paraphernalia. Back across town, linking Colmore Row and Temple Row, built in 1876 to a design influenced by the Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace, the Great Western Arcade was once voted one of Birmingham’s favourite buildings. Here you can indulge at Chouchoute with its hand-made chocolates and Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, get the write stuff from the Pen Shop, or visit premium street and skatewear store Projekt21.
At the designer handbag recycling store Designer Exchange you can swap your Gucci for a Birkin, and, for connoisseurs of a good tipple, both The Whisky Shop and Loki Wine. For bargains of all shapes and sizes, you’ll want to check out the city’s different markets. Birmingham grew up around its market traders, developing its reputation as the city of a thousand trades. The first outdoor market dates back to 1166 and was held beneath St Martin’s Church on what is now the site of the Bullring, and the city still boasts a thriving market community. Incorporated into the Bullring development next to St Martin’s, the indoor market is open six-days-a-week with some 140 different stalls offering all kinds of bargains, from carpets to confectionery, but is most frequented for its meat and fish section, generally recognised as the best in the region, while on Edgbaston Street, every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday you’ll find the famous Rag Market with around 350 stalls stocked with low-cost clothing and fabrics in all shapes and sizes.
Markets and retro goods
The first and third Wednesday of every month, July to November, also brings a Fine Foods Market to Victoria Square selling more pies, pastries, pickles and packed meats than you can shake a saucepan at. However, shopping in Birmingham isn’t just about the High Street, and a little legwork will take you to a treasure trove of different delights. It seems appropriate that, as Birmingham becomes the brightest gem among Europe’s glittering shopping capitals, it should also be the home to some of the world’s most highly skilled jewellery makers. Dotted around the world-famous Jewellery Quarter is a myriad of stores, workshops and boutiques with local contemporary and traditional designers offering antiques or custom-made pieces at exceptional value for money.
Situated in Hockley, as you head north out of the city, it has been home to some of the world’s most highly-skilled goldsmiths and jewellery makers for over 200 years. It’s an absolute, ahem, gem with over 400 local contemporary and traditional jewellery businesses, among them Crescent Silver who made the candlesticks for Elton John’s wedding and the Creative Watch Company, whose designer watches pass the time of day for many a celebrity. And, while you’re in the area, if you happen to be a whisky devotee, then you should make their way to Spencer St, near the Jewellery Quarter, for Hard To Find Whisky which, as the name suggests, sells the sort of tipples, like a Karuizawa 17 year-single malt from Japan, that you might otherwise search high and low to find.
Travelling south out of the city, a short stroll down the Bristol Road will lead you to Bromsgrove Street where, behind a somewhat tatty frontage, lurks The Diskery, the city’s oldest record store, an Aladdin’s cave of rare platters (vinyl junkies and soul fans take note) where you can spend hours sorting through the crates. They even sell vintage wind-up gramophones if you’re not yet ready for the digital age.
Just a 10-minute walk from the Bullring, Digbeth High Street is home to retro fashion store, Cow, for those who prefer their vintage clothing without futuristic prices, while a few steps further down lies the Custard Factory. An Arts & Media Centre on the site of the old Bird’s Custard factory (hence the name), it also contains several independent retail outlets, among them bridal wear with a difference Fern & Foxglove, Ideal Skate Shop, Jinxy Art, AH Contemporary Glass, the new studio/gallery of the award-winning artist, designer & glass-maker Adam Hussain, independent craft beer bottle shop Clink Beer and internationally acclaimed contemporary jewellery, ceramics and textiles designer Sara Priesler, recently commissioned by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum to design an exclusive hand-made collection for their Fabric of India exhibition. With retail plans in hand for major developments at Axis Square next to the Mailbox, Paradise, in the site of the old library, the 42-story 2one2 tower on Broad Street, Arena Central at Centenary Square and a new village community, complete with shops and restaurants in Bristol Street, you’re going to need a bigger bag.
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