Jeremy Lewis: Why city’s troubled West End Arcade deserves better after escalator horror

WEST end Arcade? With the name comes the promise of metropolitan sophistication.

Think West end and you think Harrods, the Royal Academy and an evening at Covent Garden punctuated by gins and the beef at the Naval & Military then Assam and macaroons at Fortnum’s.

  1. Struggling: But keep rents down and businesses will survive.

Alas, the name refers to the West end of Nottingham; more precisely, the West end of Upper Parliament Street, which all proper geographers will confirm is the highway marking the boundary between the North and the South of England.

Ironically the north side of this section of Upper Parliament Street gets the prosperity points. Indian and Chinese scoff. Up-market sandwich parlour. Coffee shop and casino. Throw in a turf accountant and vintner and it would be a shopping parade fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

The opposite side of western Upper Parliament Street, representing the well-scrubbed South, is shamed by comparison. in recent years the parade has taken on a generally seedy appearance with its “yoof” bars and adult provisions emporium. in the centre of it all is the distinctly unpromising upper entrance to the beleaguered West end Arcade.

The entrance is framed by a truly hideous building whose architectural origins lie in the mid-20th-Century AMALAIC movement (Any Material as Long as It’s Concrete) with influences from the AMIFU school (And Make it Jolly Ugly).

Above the portal, the mounted words West, end and Arcade look down on the shopper with an apologetic 1960s shrug.

If you enter the arcade and follow it to its lower entrance in Chapel Bar you will descend via an escalator. Only you won’t, because the escalator has been what unlucky actors like to call “resting” since an accident back in March which caused a young man and a big toe to part company.

First things first, I wish the chap a quick recovery, an easy convalescence and a long, happy and rewarding life full of love and great food.

Second things second, it would be wrong to speculate about the circumstances of the accident.

Third things third, it would be satisfying to learn a little more about the arcade and its owner’s plans for the future.

Asked about the escalator, the commercial property agents refused to comment to the Nottingham Post.

You might say they’re being cautious. I might say they’re being insolent.

Shops in the arcade are suffering from lack of passing trade and pedestrians are being inconvenienced by the temporary withdrawal of a time-saving cut-through from Chapel Bar to Parliament Street.

The traders and their customers could do with an update. When will the escalator be re-opened? When will the arcade get some through traffic?

Since the accident a lot of online pundits have been beastly about West end. I agree it is no Burlington Arcade. I cannot see LBV port or Balkan cigarettes in the widows and I’m not sure if I’d shop there for detachable collars.

Even so, I like what it does and I like the businesses it accommodates.

I don’t need a Special Forces camouflage jacket and I don’t want an autographed photograph of Frank Bruno to hang on my garage wall.

However I do like my coat sleeves shortened by the charming ladies with the sewing machines and accents suggesting they’ve fixed some hems a fair way east of Broadstairs. And I do like to drop into the empty shop when it is rented by my chum Lord Biro for displays of his topical verse.

As for secondhand books, a sign of a cultured city is the number of its bookshops and public lavatories. Nottingham has nowhere near enough of either.

Like some of the alleys and twitchells of Nottingham, and a bit like the off-piste retail offer in Hockley, West end Arcade puts some useful little businesses into NG1, whose retail profile otherwise conforms to the boring big-city norm – a riot of coffee parlours and portable telephone and cheesy gift card shops.

It falls to precious few cities to have a mixed retail offer in which, either through accident or design, small independent traders can … well, I was going to say flourish, but perhaps a better word is survive.

Keep the rents down and the West end businesses will survive.

Fix the escalator (and throw in a few bob for the general appearance of a place that seems as dated as a Hammer flick or a Slade album) and they will start surviving sooner.

Jeremy Lewis: Why city’s troubled West End Arcade deserves better after escalator horror

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